One of the real tragedies of the human condition is our inability to effectively communicate with one another. I am not referring primarily to communication of our daily activities, although we all know that there are endless difficulties with communicating these simple thoughts. We have all been on the giving and receiving end of communications that were misunderstood because we heard the wrong word, thought of it in the wrong context, or any number of other miscarriages. Knowing we have so many problems with these simple communications, it is amazing we are ever successful in conveying our deeper philosophical and spiritual thoughts.
In fact, there are many instances when we are given a chance to communicate, but we decide not to, or we decide to communicate somewhat less than we could. As an example, let’s say you are going through a difficult trial and a friend approaches you and asks how you are doing. Here you have two choices. The first choice is to suppose that this person is trying to be kind and doesn’t really want to hear about your problem (this supposition could in itself be a mistake). In that case you answer the question “Fine.” This could also be the answer if you don’t want to talk about the problem. Of course, if they know anything about you they probably know you are not fine. The second option supposes the friend is really interested in the true answer to the question and you are in the mood to share. In this case you may describe your trial and some of the reasons for it or some of the things you are doing to get through it.
At this point the communication can really derail. When we get to talking about ourselves there is no stopping us, so we can easily say something self serving. The listener might hear your communication and agree with it. Or disagree. How many times during our conversations do we disagree with a point that someone makes, but we don’t say anything because it is not worth compromising the friendship over a minor point? Yet you walk away from the conversation holding something against the speaker. The speaker walks away from the conversation feeling better, not realizing that the relationship has suffered.
A wise man once told me “when we speak we only convey a small part of what is on our mind.” The human mind is so complex, and can evaluate a subject from so many angles, that language is very limited in its ability to convey thoughts, which are laced with impressions and nuances and emotions, etc. I find that more often than not I fail to get across the entirety of my thoughts on a particular subject. It is either misunderstood by the listener, or it comes across as fragmented.
On the other hand there are many different ways through language to convey a fragment of a thought. For those that are multilingual this fact is even more apparent when translating between languages. Depending on our personality and our experience, the communication choice can either be heavy handed, subtle, or somewhere in between.
How do we minimize the damage caused by these communication pitfalls? First, honesty is the best policy. Sounds obvious, but we humans can be so unwilling to confront others even when doing so will help the people we care about. Secondly, etiquette and manners can be a great enemy to honest conversation. It causes us to put our guard up and makes us think “this is not the time or place for this conversation.” These barriers need to be removed for us to be able to be the best servants we can be to our fellow man. Finally, our ability to forgive is crucial to maintaining good relationships. It is easier too destroy a relationship through conversation than to build one, so our default position must be to believe the person speaking to us means well, even if they say something stupid.