Rashomon

October 17, 2013 — Leave a comment

Today I received a text message alerting me that I have a voicemail message on my Google Voice number. The last time I used that number was maybe six months ago for a little side business I have. The transcribed text message went like so:

Hey, no, it’s not have a chance, call me, Steve right now.

Steve? Crap. I couldn’t remember my password. I know one Steve and he wouldn’t know my google number. Chance? Am I missing out on some opportunity? Fortunately, after a few minutes of birthdays, favorite numbers, and food reference combinations I finally got in.

Hello, this is Nachman, call me please, now.

Granted, my landlord, Nachman, is a low-talking mumbler. But goodness. Rather, googlemess.

I’ve always been fascinated by translation, especially free online translators like Yahoo’s babblefish, bing translator, freetranslation.com which I’ve used casually to remind me of words or phrases from languages I no longer practice regularly. But I never ever take these sort of quick translations to heart. Most of the time the translated version is such a ridiculous jumbled mess that I end up having to translate the translation.

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I suppose you could make a case for these sorts of tools being at least a start. The thing is, words alone are just a start. There’s so much more to communication and comprehension–the nuances of culture and context that can make or break a thought, belief, argument–story–you want to convey or likewise, comprehend. I’ve found (the hard way) that all of those things are important but there’s always more to consider.

There’s this example I use to express this “more” thing in behavior. It’s from a book I worked on years ago: Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct, by P. M. Forni. In one section, P. M. describes a scenario he presents to his students (he’s a professor at Johns Hopkins). He asks the students to imagine having dinner out with some friends. One friend, he says, asks another to pass the salt. P. M. stops there and asks each of his students to react. What would he or she do? What would you do? Uh, pass the salt?… is the usual response. Well, in P. M.’s world, one doesn’t just pass the salt. Pass the salt and the pepper.

What P. M. is teaching his students, teaching us, is that the way to successful communication comes from understanding the mindset of the person even before you’ve met them. Consider their outlook, wants, needs. Then the story you put out might resonate enough to start changing that mindset.

It’s simple. Let’s all pass the salt and the pepper.

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