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Anyway, sanity is not what this column is about; not entirely, anyhow. What I'd like to reflect on today is something I've put no small amount of thought into; a subject which concerns all of the human experience, everything we've worked to achieve as a race of intelligent beings, all of history, all of science and art, and all of life as we know it. It's an integral part of our selves, something that becomes a part of us as soon as we are born, and according to some, before we're born.
Communication. Communication is everything for us, we can't live without it. We communicate so much and so often that we usually take for granted all the different ways humans communicate with each other. There are of course the obvious verbal and written communications, which we have greatly augmented over the course of our technological progress, to a level that's nearly telepathic - we can cover vast distances with our TV's, telephones, and InterNet; we can convey experiences that we normally couldn't achieve with a solely physical presence - now we can be anywhere we want, virtually. The television is quite obviously the greatest of these tools, combining both the audial and visual communications in a way undreamt of a century ago. But like any tool, it can be used for good or ill, as one can plainly see.
And yet that is not all there is to say about communication. People can communicate in many other ways, using sign language, facial expression, or even just physical expression - interpretive dance, if you will. But we can take it even further than that. A touch can be a method of communication - a stroke of the finger across the cheek, holding hands, a slap, a kiss. Sex itself is one of the ultimate forms of tactile communication; supposedly the greatest expression of love one can make, if the textbooks and bibles are to be believed. Communication doesn't have to be limited to people, either. Most animals have a much more highly developed sense of smell, and conduct much of their communication that way, through phermones. Think about your car - when it makes that wierd rattling noise underneath, isn't that telling you something?
So communication then, is the transfer of information from one party to another. Seems simple enough. Yet of all things we do as human beings, there is nothing harder than communicating clearly with one another. Having different languages is just the tip of the iceberg - the language of a people reflects their ideas and concepts of reality as a culture. Having a different language can mean having a completely different set of thoughts; there are some concepts that can be explained in one language that simply can't be translated into another. There's also a problem in that all people don't have the ability to express themselves as fully as they want to, for one reason or another. But languages, words - these things can't fully express everything we feel or see; we're limited and constrained by these concrete forms in many ways. Sometimes a look in someone's eyes expresses more than they can ever say. How can you describe something like that? How can you convey that experience?
Let's say that you do express everything you could ever hope to. You're the most eloquent and communicative speaker in the world. You approach the masses with your plan for world peace, and everybody gives you a blank look. "Why is that?" you may ask. "What happened?" Unfortunately, there can be no communication if there is no understanding - the party you communicate to must also understand what you're saying, or all is lost. Herein lie the roots of miscommunication - the number one cause of conflict in the human arena. I'm of the opinion that most of our problems stem from this plague of miscommunication; entering the information age unreservedly certainly won't help the situation any.
The way I see it, people and their areas of individual experience are like spheres, or rather, the sum total of a person and all their experiences can be expressed as an extended field of knowledge. When two people communicate, what they're really doing is interacting with each other's fields, sharing experiences (the best they can relate them), transferring thoughts. But it's only a limited area of interaction, at best - there's a whole level of the person that isn't explored. The famed psychologist Johari came up with a concept known as "Johari's Window", which represented knowledge of one's self and knowledge of others. It looks like those four square genetic diagrams we all did in high school biology. If you don't know what I'm talking about yet, forget about it, because I can't do a diagram. But, if you remember the bio stuff, this is how it goes - in the first square, there's a part of you that you know, and that other people know. In the second, there's a part that you know that other people don't know about. The third is what people know about you that you don't realize, and the fourth is a part of you that nobody knows (not even you).
What I'm really saying is that there really isn't a way to convey some experiences; there are certain things that people go through that can't be shared, no matter how hard we try. A white man can't ever really know what it's like being black, of hispanic, or asian. A man really can't know what it's like to be a woman. This sounds like obvious stuff, but if you really think about it, these are examples of experiences that can't be fully communicated. We say that we are sympathetic when we share an experience, but in a sense, we never really can be sympathetic - we can't share exactly the same experience. At best, we can only ever be empathetic, where we attempt to understand through listening and sharing, without having direct experience.
We are all alone. We can't get out of our heads, we can't escape our selves, and we can't ever truly know anyone (including ourselves). Doesn't sound too hopeful, huh? It's not meant to be. There are plenty of people out there who go their entire lives without ever truly communicating with another person. The thing is, there really isn't any other way to learn more, about others, about ourselves, or about anything. I could preach and stress the importance of communication and doing everything we can to improve it, but it seems like a blatantly obvious thing to say. So instead, I'll bid adieu, leaving you a little more confused, and hopefully more thoughtful. Until next time...
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