Communication: Lost in Translation

Translation isn’t only words and images, their definitions and use in other languages. It’s cultural background and human experience.

This morning, just before my meditation, I read this:

“As best we can, we show others what we have seen up to now. It’s at best a progress report, a map of our experiences, by no means the absolute truth.”

Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

It sums up exactly the reason that I write and post here, and what I share on my social media feeds. My intent is not always understood. I feel that I’m frequently misunderstood. And only recently have I discovered that it’s not entirely my fault or even necessarily important.

As usual, I have a lot on my mind and I’m searching for a way to communicate it. The more I live, read, and think, the more I’m convinced that the closer and more interconnected this world gets, the more complicated communication becomes.

Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

But Michelle! Isn’t it awesome that we can all instantly speak to each other, no matter where we are in the world? Isn’t it a great thing that anyone can (in many ways) freely produce and distribute any work they can come up with?

Yes, it is. But…

“Everyone I know has a big but.” – Pee Wee Herman

Communicating an idea is not simply speaking/writing a word in a particular language, or even sharing an image. Each of us brings our own experience to whatever we see and hear, we translate it through our own filter. And each of us also uses those experiences when we communicate with others.

No matter what translation tool we use, it’s not as simple as the definition of each word or image.

Well, sure, Michelle, of course!

The trouble I’m seeing is that we all believe we are speaking the same language, but we are not. It used to be so easy when we all grew up watching the same tv shows, hearing the same music, speaking the same language. We had the same cultural background, so there was no need to define and discuss every use of every word.

Today, that is not true, even when I’m speaking with a neighbor. Our world has become so connected and fragmented at the same time that it’s almost impossible to communicate with one another without a lot of time, effort, and patience, something we all seem to be running very short on.

Before you go crazy and think that I want to go back in time and change everything back the way it was, relax a little. I’m only saying that I’m struggling to communicate with the world, and watching others struggle to communicate and not kill each other is, not a little, frustrating, not mention heart wrenching at times.

Listening to a podcast earlier this week about the basis of human emotion, where they come from, and how we express them, the interviewer asked, (I’m paraphrasing) “What would you say the best way to know what someone is feeling or thinking is, from a scientific perspective?” She answered, “Ask them.”

I laughed when I heard that and added in my head, “And hope they are aware enough to know what they really mean and capable of expressing it.”

I’m not the first or only person in the world to struggle with communication, and certainly not the smartest either. But I’m sitting here thinking I’m sure the invention of the internet (like the printing press) will eventually lead humanity to a higher plane of existence, but hopefully (much like the printing press caused so many battles at first) we won’t destroy ourselves completely in the process.

My next reading, On Disobedience by Erich Fromm, is unexpectedly making me feel a bit optimistic for the future. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow!

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