Motto (rephrasing the classic Serenity Prayer /short version):
God, grant me the serenity to recognize and accept the people I cannot trust,
Courage to trust the people I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Ask a regular child to describe the Sun and he / she will most probably say it is yellow and bright. Then ask the same question to a blind child; this one would probably just say it is warm.
Ask a kid that is about 5 years old to describe how much can be bought with 100.000 Euro. You will most probably get some really funny answers. He may even believe he can buy a plane if this is on his wish list on the ‘expensive’ end.
Every other month, some new chain letter about crazy things that children say hits our Inboxes. What I find most fascinating in those letters is how genuine all those phrases are. The kids say exactly what they believe to be truth (and in their world it may very well be so!). They help me detach from the busy surrounding and read with my heart, then pick some phrases that are extremely wise even if they look silly. I start then thinking that we have just grown up into ignoring or forgetting about those things. We went on with our lives, becoming serious adults and masters of our universe. Is it so? I really wonder…
I remember one feature of the Romanian language, praised intensively throughout my school years. It was presented to us as exceptionally rich when compared to others. Almost any simple word you choose has a wide variety of meanings and there are certain words that cannot be translated while preserving their full meaning. We Romanians are actually very proud of this feature of our language and attribute it to its Latin root.
Lately I started to wonder if this feature is now helping or hindering, in the contemporary context of multicultural communication. Not only that it makes translation difficult, but it also opens the door for a lot of misunderstanding. Taking this to an extreme, one could even say it makes the ‘imported’ laws and rules interpretable and weak.
But then I look around and see it is not a matter of Romanian language. There is an increasing tendency to play with the meaning of the words, twisting and turning them to serve one’s purpose. People attribute distinctive understanding of the same words in different contexts. It may happen either for making best use of them in accomplishing their own purpose, or for hiding their own mistakes behind the ambiguity and vulnerability of their own words.
There are sometimes funny and sometimes unpleasant situations, when misunderstandings are really genuine, as there is always hard to place yourself in someone else’s shoes. There are so many alternative meanings of the same word and so many different sides of the same truth that we cannot anticipate how our interlocutors would read our intention when we try to communicate. Repeating what you hear and defining a common understanding on important matters may help very much in avoiding misunderstanding, but we may never be really certain about the outcome whenever more than one person is involved.
There are different ways of listening and perceiving, which are influenced by our past experience, as well as expectations from that moment. If people are not used to hear outspoken honest phrases, they will always look for the alternative meaning of every word you say. On the other hand, whenever they are used to hear things expressed in a plain and simple way, they will not look for alternative meanings and so you should not ‘beat around the bush’ with those people. This reminds me about the classical prejudice about how men and women communicate their wishes – straight to the point versus induced and suggested.
Whenever we are consistent in our communication, we should expect improved understanding over time. However we should still adapt to any new people that come into our lives and first check our level of common understanding before jumping into conclusions. The communication game may be challenging and beautiful at the same time, as long as it is played fairly by the participants. It is another thing when ‘innuendo’ kicks in (and I am not talking about Queen’s song…). This is defined as negative insinuation, somehow hurting the interlocutor. The unspoken innuendos are also the strangest ones, and I refer here to either unasked or unanswered questions. They extend to non-verbal communication, respectively looks that are never followed by words or by actions. Or even stranger – looks or body language that come in contradiction with the outspoken words. The world around us creates a net of possibilities mixed with potentials, both on the negative (threat) and on positive (opportunity) path.
Our current life is full of playing with words, be it using the hidden meaning in positive ways, or slipping into the world of innuendo. Sometimes something is really hidden behind our words, either threatening or complimenting and flirting. Other times we are just having fun and playing around. Sometimes our positive use of hidden meaning is misinterpreted by recipient as innuendo. The probability of such misreading increases when people from different background come together (be it educational, social, cultural, religious etc.).
It may even happen that we do not mean anything to be hidden, but still is perceived as such. This is why is important in a communication to exercise seeing through the eyes of our counterparty. It becomes especially important when the innuendo turns nasty, into a battle of opposing interests, when hurtful misunderstandings are actively planned, displayed and sometimes even publicly escalated. In those cases we should not allow time to pass without addressing the issues and clarifying whether we had a genuine misunderstanding or not.
It seems that a fashion of using innuendo as a way of communication has spread in the world nowadays. We may enjoy it in movies, at parties and on reality shows, while we may not enjoy it so much in our work or at home, in our courts and parliamentary debates, or on the evening news. Unlike the kids that are usually genuine in sharing their feelings and opinions, larger parts of the adult population have evolved into mastering the communication in a way that allows taking back whatever was said, while pretending it was just misunderstanding. It is a matter of integrity and trust and one should be always careful how to choose communication partners and address them with care.
The positive message which I still get for you today is that there is a child hidden in each and every one of us. We will always carry the genuine side within ourselves and will always crave to share this with our most trusted friends. We just need to take care that our inner kid is well taken care of, has a good understanding of the limits of the playground and the rules of the game. Otherwise he/she may be hurt too often and never wish to play ever again.
Have a nice genuine week.