Communication – crucial but rare

Copyright by Vincent O’Neil March 2002 – used by permission

 kingWhen the colonel told the major, “Send the missiles,” he meant to have the missiles shipped to a storage shed.  The major thought he meant, “Send the missiles to the enemy,” and pushed the button.  World War III.

At its very best, communication is often not heard the way it was intended.  The words that come out of our mouth, seldom enter the ear of the listener the way we intended them.  It is as if a wind picks them up as they fly through the air and twists them – sometimes even backward.

Suppose you have a chat with people in your work area about an upcoming event.  To you, it is an informal talk.  To a co-worker, it is a course of action.  As the event draws closer, the co-worker asks where the metal tubing is, and you look blank.  “What metal tubing?” you ask. “The metal tubing we are going to use to build the project,” the co-worker replies. “Oh,” you wince.  Then you turn defensive.  “I don’t remember saying definitely, positively, we were going to use metal tubing.” The co-worker turns away, muttering. All the necessary words were said at the initial meeting, but someone missed the point, and that makes all the difference.

If a young man tells his girlfriend, “I’ll give you a ring,” she might start planning a wedding.  He only meant he was going to call her on the telephone.

Two psychiatrists passed each other walking down a hall.  The first said, “Hello.”  The second thought, “Humph.  I wonder what he meant by that!”

Maybe we should all be required to use sign language.  To listen in sign language, you have to watch.  If you look away, the person signing knows you aren’t listening.

Most commonly, we are used to communication problems relating to not hearing an important word or phrase.  People delivering the message simply don’t enunciate or pronounce their words specifically enough to be heard.  The other half of the problem is the ear that doesn’t hear.  The words may be spoken correctly, but the receiving mind took those few seconds to wander – just a little bit – and the speaker might as well have announced the Queen.

But what happens when you realize your mind wandered?  Suppose you caught only part of the message, or thought the speaker mumbled?  Do you stop five seconds to ask for a repeat?  Never happens.  

It also never happens that a speaker catches a mistake and corrects it on the spot.  For some reason known only to the heavens, once a series of words leave our mouths, they are blessed as sacred.  We would NEVER go back on them – we would never admit an error, not five seconds later, or five years later.  Perhaps that is why skeptics of the paranormal remain skeptical.  Since they declared years ago they don’t believe anything they can’t hold in their hands and bite with their teeth, they don’t dare admit to allowing a fresh thought.  Watch out if an ghost throws a lamp at a skeptic – if no one else witnesses the event, the skeptic will sweep up the broken glass, go home and write another article decrying spooks.

Even Albert Einstein was aware of this innate habit to sanctify our words.  “To be called to account publically for everything one has said, even in jest, in an excess of high spirits or in momentary anger, may possibly be awkward,” he told an interviewer in 1934.  “Yet up to a point it is reasonable and natural.”

An exciting basketball game in 1992 was one in the last seconds when a player threw the ball 54 feet through the hoop.  The front page headline the next day read, “Richard Nixon caps comeback with 60 footer.”  Richard Nixon was still alive at the time, but he was living roughly 800 miles away.  It was a typographical error, of course.  The player was Kevin Nixon, not Richard.

Headline writers sometime get it right, but the copy editor puts two unrelated items too close together.    In one newspaper, the results inside one page were headlines reading “Taxes,” and “Death.”  Certainly.

Fan offers wife for Super Bowl ticket.  Judge okays insanity plea.

Sometimes, the right photo and the right text just can’t seem to find each other in the newspaper, such as this picture of Joe Montana identified as a couple of baseball players.

A retired Army major general was talking about base closings in 1990, and sternly said, “We’re not smoking pot, I tell you.  We really think we know what we’re talking about.”  Are you sure, sir?

Did you hear about the Greyhound bus driver that panicked in 1990?  One of the passengers shouted, “There’s a bum in the bathroom.”  You got it.  The driver heard, “There’s a bomb in the bathroom.”  He slammed on the brakes, and passengers ran for the door.  A state trooper was called to the scene, the highway was closed for two hours, and a bomb-sniffing dog was brought to the rescue.  The bum was eventually cornered.

In 1992, a small story in a newspaper reported the result mis-communication was having on drivers.  “Car dealer Gus Paulos. . . .was told to remove his billboard ordering drunks off the road.  The billboard, on the 500 South on-ramp of I-15, says Drunk Drivers Exit Now!  Officials say it looks too much like a regular road sign and fear drivers will heed the advice and exit at the sign.  They would jump a guard rail and drop several stories to the street below.”

Just prior to the Gulf War, Iraq swore U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie had told Hussein no action would be taken if he invaded Kuwait.  After all, hadn’t she said to him, “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.”  Unfortunately, that is really what Glaspie said, but it was NOT what the U.S. government meant.

I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant!

Dear Abby has read her share of interesting letters.  At various times she has seen these lines sent to welfare offices: “I am forwarding my marriage certificate and six children.  I had seven, but one died which was baptised on a half sheet of paper.” “I am glad to report that my husband who is missing, is dead.” “I am forwarding my marriage certificate and three children, one of which was a mistake as you can see.” “My husband got his project cut off two weeks ago, and I haven’t had any relief since.”

No, there is no relief on the way.  It seems that we are stuck with mis-communications as long as we talk or write our messages.  Hmmmm, what would happen if we could use ESP?



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