I Know You Think You Know What You Thought I Meant But….

It’s pretty obvious sometimes, in the midst of a conversation, when we are attempting to compare apples to oranges. Both parties usually understand the discrepancy eventually and agree there is no use arguing or getting upset. But more often than we might think, we can enter into conflict, anger, judgement and downright hostility when we THINK we are comparing apples to apples, when we ASSUME that the other person holds the same meaning for the words we use.  The key to a whole lot of our reality and apparent disharmony with others is a deceivingly complex thing called semantics. What is our “semantic reality”, our private EXPERIENCE of that for which the word is just a symbol?  Words are just labels for a personal experience of some THING, be it tangible and solid, or a feeling or emotion.  What that symbol represents to me may be completely different from what it represents to you. My “apple” is a crisp. tart, green Granny Smith and yours is a red, round, sweet McIntosh. Imagine the discussion we would have about how much sugar to add to “the perfect apple pie” recipe. It is possible we could come to blows and both assume the other guy is either a complete idiot or has no working taste buds. When we assume that another person shares our own  “semantic reality”, we will be wrong 99% of the time ( I just made that percentage up, but it’s pretty close within my experience).

Okay, granted, the word “apple” is pretty innocuous, but just think about how the different semantic realities of certain words have affected global changes, caused wars, created separate nations and have pitted one human being against another for centuries. Differing semantic realities  have caused the death of entire races, and caused world wide devastation.

Words, simple words, like God, family, mine,  food, abundance, valuable, trash, enough, happiness, quiet, clean, sacred, beautiful…. almost any word that can come to your mind will be loaded with your own history for that word, your own judgement of that word, your own emotional triggers associated with that word.

It’s truly amazing that we manage to communicate and get along as often as we do. It is also not surprising that we tend to feel most comfortable with people, or groups of people, who SEEM to share our “reality”. It requires no real effort to communicate because within our group we develop entire systems of verbal shorthand that ASSUME a shared reality. Within our clan/tribe/group vacuous phrases like “well, you know!” actually carry a lot of meaning.

It is no easy task to speak in such a way that we try, to the best of our ability, to make sure that what the other person is hearing is what we meant. It takes time, it’s slower and sometimes frustrating. But in the attempt, we force ourselves to be more fully CONSCIOUS and RESPONSIBLE for our words. If the other person does not understand, the onus is on us, not them.  There, of course, will be certain times when no matter how hard we try, we will not be able to communicate our reality because the other person does not have a life referent for our words (read “Bleckrut is in the eye of the beholder”).  I use the example of a seagull trying to communicate “cloud” to a fish. At best, the seagull might try metaphor or simile.  “Clouds are sort of like rocks, only they float and are not hard. ” That’s pretty pitiful but given the entirely different worlds that the two inhabit, there are only a few things they have in common enough to even attempt communication.

SO THE KEY SEEMS TO BE: If you truly want to be understood,  you must be willing to attempt to understand, to “stand under”, the other person so that you can begin to see the totally unique world that is theirs.  The very attempt can push us right out of our comfort zone into the scary limitless “unknown”. The willingness to Stand Under another’s reality can have unexpected outcomes. You may discover that they already knew what your were talking about but had different words for it. You may realize that what you were trying to say was pretty trivial after all. Or you may discover that they understand more than you hope to understand anytime soon.  No matter how that person appears on the outside, you can bet that the attempt to truly commune-icate, will change you and your awareness of the uniqueness of your own semantic reality. You may even have the rather humbling realization that your “reality”  is just one of billions of other possibilities.


Ego Partum Meus Verum

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