Little Miss Communication
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Communication is one of the only things we humans do every waking minute of every waking day. We can't
eat all day long, we can't sleep all day long and thank God, we can't talk all day long but we
send emote information like little houses on fire. However, as communicators, we are constantly
exporting mountains of information in a living example which clearly indicates that people are
not quality communicators, just fire hoses of information spewing out 24x7. The only thing that
we do is generate mountains of information that unfortunately is not much use to anyone seeking
elegant enlightenment. Unfortunately, irregardless of their skill at communicating, humans just
love to do it and believe they have an innate skill for doing it well. Furthermore, people
also erroneously believe since they possess the gift of speech and overall communication, they
must be gifted as well. The irony is not lost on anyone within earshot.
It is the rule of mouth that people are not intimidated if their gathered facts are a bit sketchy. Lacking facts just adds to the overall challenge of communication; because we always prefer to have a complete story to tell and if we need more facts, we can just make them up. We fail to realize that the some of the most interesting stories start simple but are affected by both lack of time and instantaneous ambiguity. Whether they are spinning yarns or passing opinions, people don't need all the facts to state an opinion of their own.
If someone begins a story with the following:
"I heard the only reason they (fill in the blank) did it that way it because of his (fill in the blank)."
"I read it in a magazine that he and whatshisname (fill in the blank) were the guys behind the whole deal."
"I can't remember, but it was a real, long official story with dates and names. It was one of the big ones."
"Then it must be true."
Then the person, who heard the story, takes it for gospel and wanders off, and spreads the same information to another witless victim. Armed with the new information that strengthens innuendo, rewards naiveté and damages critical thinking, people are also not satisfied with the original batch of half-truths, they are comfortable freelancing their own additions. It is amazing that world issues can be summed up in one sentence or that a conspiracy avoids the entire national press only to be disseminated in the small towns of Southern Minnesota or rural Kansas.
Whether through laziness or a conscious desire to misrepresent, another brutal reality is that people make things up during times of need. If their audience becomes distracted, if they want to impress or if they are tight for time, people say what they want to say and treat truth as an important, but not necessary, element of their story.
As a result of that, a spectrum of untruth exists ranging from tiny and harmless white lies to epic fabrications that defy both general physics and the time-space continuum. Someone, I think it was Marty Malecha, once said that there are always three sides to every story: your side, my side and the truth and it can really suck when you are the furthest from the most desired place, which may not always be in the supposed middle. The desire for purity is a charming one and pursued only by the sadistic who continually battle the legions of liars that make up our free and democratic society. The desire for the truth is admirable but it isn't that interesting. Let's face it: sometimes the truth is boring and not as exotic as a yarn that involves a car chase, international intrigue or a lion eating your homework. Whether it is a bald-face lie or just a slight shading of the technical truth, the desire to misdirect reality is ground in two fundamental human qualities: to wield power and to avoid blame. Both reasons are noble and either one will do in a pinch and having the real truth on your side is just icing on the metaphorical cake. In other words, truth isn't without detractors because of a boring tendency to bring issues to closure with a lack of theatrics.
Also, since we are destroying myths, having the truth on your side isn't always a winning strategy. Pure truth, like pure sodium, is a volatile element and we, as mere mortals, must respect its unvarnished and brutal power. People, by nature are situational hypocrites and if we choose to take the path of truth and beauty, we shouldn't apply it on a case by case basis, which can really cramp up an evening if you spend your limited relaxation time trying to right the wrongs that may never need any help. We have to live within the restrictions of total truth without qualification and that paints too many people into too many rhetorical corners. Just for sake of sparing someone's feelings, we should have two kinds of truth definitions: truth that deals with nouns and numbers and truth that is ground on personal opinions, which really don't count for much in the long run. It may be true (in my world) that someone is a hatchet-faced peckerhead, but there have never been any truly quantitative tests to prove such a claim a wider audience. As we dive headlong into opinions, fuzzy logic takes over and then we are just splitting metaphorical hairs.
If someone asks you for an opinion on appearance or apparel, you should recuse yourself due to the ugly fact that nothing good comes out of the any conversation that deals with opinion. You could lie and declare them perfectly put together without looking at them or hand them a card and declare your neutrality in all topics personal. If the same person, gender non-specific, asks you in a court of law, if you murdered Colonel Mustard, you better go for the unambiguous and direct answer. But when the topic deals with personal choice or opinion, take the high road and run as fast as you can. Truth is not absolute, as I am annoyingly repeating, but rather a component of a larger piece of human interaction. It can validate an argument or enlighten the unenlightened but it certainly isn't necessary for a good time. Wielding truth is a hairy thing because if we begin to say what we feel, friendships would grind to a halt and fashion evolutions would cease to exist. Well, except for female teenagers and the deep South.
For everyone who expends all their effort to discover the truth, there are many more people who make things up, state ignorant opinions and waste no time to determine is what truly right. A vast majority of these oracles are harmless and most of their insights remain within their own, somewhat shallow gene pool. People blend stories together because they feel they have gathered enough facts and want to tell their sisters, co-workers or anyone dumb enough to listen intently to some yarn that has sufficient information not bound by any necessary truths or discoverable metric. The unfortunate aspect of this group is the unending perpetuation of partial facts that are blended into never-ending variations of new stories, which spawn other lies that are perpetuated yet again. We see these cyclical results in urban myths, and other fantastic rumors that have both a questionable origin and a dubious future. But the real culprits are the second-generation recipients of this information that take it for gospel and add their own elaboration before passing it on to another audience possessing well-meaning but unfortunately, an equally gullible nature. However, the sheer volume of this randomly tied-together blather assures us that the hits just keep on coming. Just like beauty, true is usually in the eye or ear of the beholder.
Truth and its cousins aren't limited to personal opinions, it spans into other arenas, including literary or medical advice. The best place to start is dispensing medical advice for people that failed to complete medical school begin in the areas of homeopathic remedies, non-traditional diagnosis's and over-the-counter medication. Such as:
"I heard that will cure cancer."
"You just mix this into your cereal and you are set."
"Are you sure?"
"I read it in a magazine. It said that the (fill in the blank) will cure cancer. The AMA (a rare specific source) or the Doctor's (the more time-honored general source) don't want you to know about it."
"Really?" (one last chance to shake their credibility)
"Really." (case closed: the scrutiny of the questioner has been satisfied)
Tell your friends and relatives what they should do for muscle strains, bump and bruises and don't hesitate to be a ggressive. Any idiot can suggest an aspirin and bed rest but you can listen for a minute and start suggesting coffee enemas, wind-generated electroshock or anything that The Lancet refuses to publish. Med School? We don't need no stinking Med School. Once enlightened and your first patient is out the door, don't lose the critical momentum and make sure to spout out whatever that comes to mind. If you can remember something that you read on an airplane (don't worry, you don't need to remember the article, remembering the airline is close enough), it only matters is that you read it, so somewhere it has to be true. If you can say it with conviction and a sincere tone to your voice, you could likely tell anyone anything with no downsides for your credibility. If you wear glasses, you are ninety percent home already.
The formula is simple: take a majority of a name of someone somewhat famous or exotic (discovered spies, an overnight sensation, someone foreign), add a word or phrase that gets one's attention (apprehend, incarcerate, fornicate, pontificate, mesmerize, and undulate) and mix vigorously with whatever else you have lying around. Anything to keep a conversation going and if something pops in your head during the middle of your story, toss it in and view it as artistic license. No one can refute that kind of crap; just start slinging the words out and someone will believe you. And that is just the start. As your audience decides that they want to tell someone a majority of your story, they will fill in the areas that they can't remember with their own verbal puzzle pieces. And the formula for ignorance is well on its way of plugging up the minds of people who don't have time to read the newspaper and prefer being told what it said. And the beat goes on.
Such as attacks on someone's good citizenship is always fun too:
"I heard that he was arrested for something."
"I don't know, I think it was pretty serious."
"How did you find out?"
"I read it somewhere."
"I can't remember, I think it was a newspaper or maybe it was a news program. But I am pretty sure it was him and he did 'something bad.'"
"Yes, really. And I think the cops know all about him."
This type of miscommunication is well intentioned and you can really save yourself time if you just jump into a story with any discussion items you got laying around. People that disseminate bad information for a living have to be impressed how a half-skimmed paragraph from a weekly shopper or People Magazine can send the dumb ones marching in the streets. Some truth can move generations but it can pale in the face of information that was built for dissemination. One more thing, if it is meant to be read, don't clog it up with a lot of details, it slows down the read:
"I think it was Reader's Digest or maybe Ladies Home Journal but it really doesn't matter because it said that all New Yorkers are Jewish and they hate the Amish."
"Really?" (again with the really...)
"I guess they do this stuff all the time and they are purposefully good at it because all the Amish are really from Canada."
"Oh, my God."
"Those Canadian Amish must be exhausted. I heard from my sister in Minnesota that they had six hundred inches of snow last week. It was fifty degrees below Kelvin."
[I would like to pause for a moment, to take a knee in the presence of genius. It makes my ass tired to think of all the throw-away conversations occur between two people that pull some partial fact out of the air and extrapolate it into their current theory of enlightenment. The targets are not just trailer-dwellers but people who fail read newspapers and books with any level of understanding.]
If you go down this path, state your newly minted facts quickly with a sense of conviction and no real challenges will come your way. Tell your story, listen to what you want to in return and allow your mind to go in any direction that seems exciting. Hell, we got the First Amendment, so start using it and if pressure, just say that you can't exactly remember where you read it, but you will get back to them. But once that portion of the discussion is past, make a mental note to never go back to that issue and if asked again, delay for another day. Why resolve anything, just keep on churning up the ideas. The best defense is a good offense and if you keep making things up, whether real or imagined, you surround yourself with enough information that eventually an escape route will be discovered. The only challenge, albeit rare, will be the ubiquitous qualifier of "Really?" Just assure the questioner that the claim is indeed real, and you will not have any more credibility issues.
Off you go, with no corroboration, to disseminate to another group that some person is evil. When you peel away the layers, it would be painfully obvious that the whole accusation and recollection was faulty, but there isn't much to be concerned about because people don't go back to rectify things. When newspapers accuse, the individual is on page one, with ninety-point type declaring his or her debauchery. If the newspaper retracts the original statement, it will be buried on page fifteen, buried within the city council minutes. Lurid details loose on facts sell while boring and ironically non-titillating facts are uniformly skipped over by the reading public. We place the marketing of an idea well ahead of the actual idea itself because that is what sells: I have always said that if Shakespeare had more car chases, his plays would be on weekly series on the WB.
People just say what is on their minds and we have to encourage that, no matter the damage of collateral ignorance. Not bound by any desire for accuracy, people are constantly discussing issues and proposing solutions whether they know anything about the situation or not. Names are blurred along with the issues as people pipe in with their observations just to fill up conversation. This is not only dangerous and reckless; it makes for poor theater. As the story evolves, the original issue has long been put to rest, never to be reviewed again. The elegance of communication combined with the joy of hearing your own voice is a joy forever, per John Keats or someone (I am not sure) so embrace its beauty and move on. All this is the cost of living in a free society and I suppose we have to take the good with the bad to remain the land of the free, home of the brave and the world of the well-meaning but woefully distracted unnamed source. We will always have people around to speak their minds, it is up to us to filter out the misinformed, the ignorant and the completely brainless.
Unfortunately, we usually can't tell how to separate the accurate or truthful information from the contrived and out and out lies. As first blush, you usually give the speaker or the writer some credibility for their presentation but as the person goes on, the substance and credibility of the person suffers enough for you to discount the entire message due to their stupidity. The other flaw with that level of initial credibility comes from the over-abundance of opportunities to say what you think. In the Dark Age, there were only three or four television channels so out of sheer scarcity; the quality of the messenger was controlled. Today, there are two dozen news channels generating content as fast as possible so if you have to bruise a few facts to make the evening news, so be it: this is show business. People are still somewhat animated when they see the red light of a television camera as they wave frantically to see themselves waving frantically. You see people call other people on cell phones to tell them to tune in to a channel so they can see themselves being called on a cell phone.
In the future, we will all have our own television channel so the novelty of being on television should (hopefully) diminish to a point of less frantic subjects on television. Of course, that will change as we grow bored with our own individual television channel and make every effort to be seen on someone else's channel. If I am successful at that feat, I will be the one that is calling one of my friends to tell him or her to quickly tune in to see me on the cell phone calling them. I don't think this will ever stop but I do want to take this opportunity to officially declare my station, when available, as "JEFF" where it is all Jeff, all the time.
Finally, simple answers to complex issues are always another nice place to enhance communication. If you should strive to give a one or two word solution to AIDS (condoms!), race relations (education!), the trade deficits (isolation!), the economy (tax cuts!) or drug abuse (more jails!) as that will save you a lot of time. You don't have to be right, just simple. And don't waste your time on complex issues, as they can get way too detailed and will guarantee low ratings. People don't have time to wade through an in-depth analysis of an issue or to display the patience of listening to all sides of an issue. They just want an answer and if you can make it rhyme, that would make the answer even more believable.
As middle age becomes more of a way of life than a novelty, I am come to the realization that life is life and time is time. Neither one can be manipulated as the efforts focused on fighting the inevitable could be better suited on embracing the reality of growing older; because that's it truly the way it goes. Not exactly the most eloquent comment ever uttered but there is a beauty in its simplicity. The parts that make up a life are a series of events, initially significant or traumatic (or both) and as time acts on them, merely another challenge or obstacle that makes up one's life memories. A great quote, used often by this writer, is that "comedy is tragedy plus time." And if it doesn't seem funny now, just wait. When I was younger, I was laughing at other stuff and today, I have all the laughs I need but I don't have the time.
When I was exactly sixteen years old, the city of Faribault allowed me the privilege and obligation of piloting a motor vehicle simply by passing a brief exam, which demonstrated my proficiency in driving. Exactly four hours later, I hit a parked car and my name made the daily paper for the first time. Relying on my time is time theory, the memory should be hilarious by now but it isn't yet. In fact, it isn't near that level of category yet. However, since I am now telling the story, which I believe is the first of about ten steps to making this story less tragic and more amusing; I will be able to smirk about it long after I pass away. The events of the day remain very clear up to the point of impact. My driving companion decided that discretion and anonymity was the better part of valor and left me sitting on the curbside. Where I received (in order) the mystified neighbor, the local police, the tow truck and various pedestrians in a mind-numbing lineup that not only emphasized the obvious but re-emphasized it again. That is a message that doesn't need a lot of elaboration because it happened to me and it made me (and more importantly, not you) deserving look like a fool. Point, set, collision and match.
The hope was to now stop communication, wipe my eyes of the copious tears of laughter and move onto the next story; whether it is my demonstrations of social retardation, amateur drinking or Neanderthal cultural attitudes. To plunge headfirst into situations never before seen and barely imagined and to come out literally wiser than one went in. It doesn't have to be anything amazing such as meeting the J.D. Salinger, dating Paula Abdul or traveling to Cuba. It can be as simple as seeing an attendant in the Men's room, spending time at a wake or wedding or having someone disappear from your life. A honk occurs, the circumstances spin and you marvel at the incredible fragility that makes up our life and our demeanor. The next day comes in and other variables collide with yesterday's issues and the true random nature of our life becomes more and more apparent. Not the simple solution I was selling earlier but it certainly makes one stop to ponder the beautiful mystery of life. Tell me what you think and I will tell you what I think and we can agree to the fact that there is no truth to decide many issues so we can just let the conversation continue without any purpose except to entertain. When used as a tool, however poorly, communication becomes a chore because someone is insisting on keeping score.
We can sit back and marvel quietly or we can jump in and try to change the direction of something or someone and sincerely hope we are doing the best at the time. Sadly, most efforts result in little or no change in the ultimate destination but we are better people for trying something. It is our way to do what we have to do without sounding like a country western song, or at least not letting the connection between your life and country music, which in the long run, not a bad day's work. Finally in the arena of true randomness, you win some and you lose some. Mentors leave or die, product lines are mothballed and companies acquired and all your hard work in ancient history when senior management load up their cars and head south while you have to re-invent yourself all over again. So, its time to begin, really, I swear to God. And remember, there is nothing like the truth to get in the way of a great yarn. And don't over think, it can really take the wonderment out of the daily surprises we all need.
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