“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw
It’s amazing to me that if I put a thought into words, write those words on piece of paper or type them into my computer and send them to you, if you read them, you are forever changed, at least in some small way.
I picture words as vessels, like little clay pots into which we can insert meaning and emotion. For some reason I think of these word-vessels as grey with tiny lids, shaped like almonds or footballs or genie lamps. We send these vessels to others who receive not only the meaning they contain, but also the energy we put into them.
It’s not uncommon that the recipient of the word-vessel adds his own meaning as well. It’s as though the recipient uses dirty or contaminated hands to remove the meaning and energy from the vessels we send. For this reason we can never really be certain that what we intended to send was what was truly received.
Our messages are also diminished by noise both literal and figurative. Communication’s simple process of “encode, transmit, decode” isn’t really all that simple after all.
And although the process of using words to communicate is fraught with challenges, it has its benefits as well. When we exchange words and ideas with others, we almost always become richer in the process. Unlike the transaction of goods— if I give you a dollar and you give me a dollar’s worth of goods, although we may both now have something of value that we didn’t have before— neither one of us is really any richer.
But if I give you an idea and you give me an idea, we’re both richer and neither one of us had to lose anything for this to happen. We’ve grown wealthier by sharing what we have. I’m convinced that that’s the way the universe always works, even if it’s not always evident.
What this means for communication is that the more love and generosity we can stuff into the word-vessels we send to others, the more we’ll receive in return, and the richer we will be. Just be sure to wash your hands.