by Beth Boswell Jacks
what you think I said, but I’m not
sure you realize that what you heard
is not what I meant.”
~ Robert McCloskey
Oh, what a monster miscommunication can be! Whether we’re trying to discuss and understand an issue with folks who speak our language or whether we’re stumbling along, trying to communicate with those who speak a foreign language, we can get in a heap of trouble.
Example: There’s a Bulgarian proverb that goes, “Seize opportunity by the beard, for it is bald behind.”
I give up.
Understanding other cultures and languages takes lots of patience, something in short supply for most of us.
My friend Jackie presented an interesting study at our church several Saturdays ago about India and Pakistan. She’s made two trips there with United Methodist Church groups, and she shared with us the things she learned through her travel and study. Listening to Jackie, watching her slides and video, reading her handouts, I wished that programs such as this were more widely available and that all of us were anxious to avail ourselves of these presentations and discussions.
Writer James Howell once said, “Our best candle is our understanding.” How can we make our way through the darkness if we don’t broaden our knowledge of the world and its people?
A dear former classmate, Bobby Joe Moon in Houston, Texas, e-mailed me this morning with this comment: “I frequent the Boba Café (boba are Asian fruit/ice drinks like Smoothies) next to Houston Community College’s Central Campus. We see many international students there from African countries, Central and South America, Asian and European countries. I engage them in conversation whenever I can. Today I spotted some beautiful young ladies from Ethiopia and asked them: ‘Are you from Addis?’ Their eyes lit up. I told them I enjoy their food like enjera – people everywhere love to talk about their food . . .”
I’d say Bobby Joe is working to keep his “candle” lit!
And there are additional ways for us to learn about other nations and other cultures, including films and books and the chance to host international students and visitors in our homes. I believe the only hope for our world is that candle of enlightenment that comes when we’re receptive to the idea of communicating and understanding those we perceive as “different.”
That also means listening.
“People can only hear you when they are moving toward you,” writes Edwin H. Friedman, “and they are not likely to when your words are pursuing them. Even the choicest words lose their power when they are used to overpower. Attitudes are the real figures of speech.”
Many of us, in too many corners of this world, home and abroad, seem to have forgotten something important: Without communication we’re doomed . . . and the most effective form of communication is a smile – not a fist.
Yeah, I know that peace, nation to nation and neighbor to neighbor, is not as simple as smiles. We have to have some starting place for our beliefs though, don’t we?
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