Tomato tomato – when I type it you can’t hear tomato tomahto. Same with aunt aunt or either either or neither neither. And when I use jk or ftw in a text, it can be easily misconstrued. (As can that b I end up typing instead of a period at the end of LOTS of texts without realizing it before I hit send. No, I didn’t call you a b! I swear, I didn’t – even though you have it in writing.) Communication these days may be faster, but it’s not necessarily more clear.
The truth is, I can often understand the raise of a two-year-old’s eyebrow above a mask more clearly than I can comprehend the intent of a tweet or the meaning of some texts. Sometimes even essays and news stories leave me wondering.
Context helps. If I know the sender, my initial response will be tempered by our previous interactions. Length helps. The more full the exposition, the greater the chance I’ll grasp an idea in its entirety. Precise word selection helps. But tomato or tomahto, I’m going to rely on my experience to interpret what you attempt to communicate.
As a listener, I can try to gain a greater understanding by putting myself in your shoes. But there’s a limit in that my experience and yours may be similar, but they will never be the same. If I overstep and insert too much of myself, I may miss your point entirely.
So, there will be misunderstandings. So what?
It’s true. There will always be misinterpretation, miscommunication, and misunderstanding. We can’t eliminate them entirely. But an attempt to grasp as much of another’s experience as possible accomplishes many positive things that contribute to thriving.
As we become better listeners, we find more common ground. I don’t think there’s any question we need to rediscover our common ground these days.
Feeling heard and accepted is easier when we share common ground. And those feelings make me more likely to hear and cooperate with you.
Experiencing your acceptance of me makes me more likely to accept and empathize with you.
We continue to live through a pandemic that’s pulling us further and further into opposing camps. It’s also highlighting systemic problems that need to be fixed.
Every day, we face choices that can have the effect of improving the future or tearing it down. What we do matters. It has an effect. We may not feel we can change the world, but we can certainly change someone’s day. And each person we touch will affect many others.
Sometimes, we may feel we must fight to defend our position. Fighting can contribute to the improvement of society. But we must be clear on our values, see our flaws realistically, and be able to envision the long-term effect of the battle we’re fighting. Knowing which battles to choose and how to wage them requires opening our minds and our hearts, listening carefully, gaining insight, and exercising courage.
Condemning, othering, labeling, dismissing, and jumping to conclusions based on today’s hurried, abbreviated communication is dangerous territory. Appallingly, I see some form of those every day.
As a culture, we’re precariously balanced. A fight over the pronunciation of tomato will not move us forward.
Putting in the effort to communicate well and consciously consider the effect of our words can help us thrive.