Imagine you’re reading something. (for example- this blog) You read my words, and sometimes you read exactly what’s on the page. But sometimes, do you ever start to bring your own interpretation onto those words? Do you read the word “happy” but start to weave what happy means to you, as opposed to what precedes and follows the word “happy” on the page?
Interpretation. Two people may read the same thing, but get two different meanings from it. This happens often in literature: it’s why we have book discussion groups. There’s more than one way to look at anything (half full/half empty). But this can get us into trouble.
I often read a word or phrase that I know absolutely nothing about. Thanks to the internet Gods, I am able to find out the meaning with relative ease. Knowing the meaning helps me understand whatever it is I’m looking at. I don’t have a pre-conceived notion or idea yet, because it’s a new concept. I start with a blank slate. No interpretations.
But what about words we know the meaning of? Words we hear and read and use every day? When you use a word all the time, you start to have a definition of that word in your mind. The problem is, your meaning may be different than someone else’s. This can cause miscommunication. You’re both using the same word, but you each are interpreting it differently.
I like to
argue discuss things with people. Very often, I will ask someone to define a word they are using, so I know where they are coming from. This happened recently when I was having an argument discussion with someone about school dress codes. This woman argued that girls should have to adhere to a dress code so they don’t “distract” boys. I asked her to define distract, because to me, saying something is distracting in a classroom settings opens up a whole big can of worms.
There’s a funny bit that jimmy Fallon does on “The Tonight Show” . He puts common songs into Google translate so it comes out in another language. Then, he takes the translated song and plugs it back into translate, and then has a singer sing the new song. (I swear it’s funnier when you watch it) The point I’m trying to make is, after going through translate twice, the words are not even close to the original. It becomes a bad interpretation. The same words become mangled and you can’t understand them.
Words are extremely powerful. We must all learn to use them very carefully when we are speaking. But we must also be careful to listen to the words presented to us. We must read things with an open mind and try not to carry our backstory into everything. In standardized tests, students are expected to answer questions based on the passage provided: they are not supposed to bring in background knowledge. It’s not a bad idea to go into conversations as if you know nothing. Look at every conversation, every reading passage as a chance to learn something new. Look at every verbal interaction as chance to get rid of preconceived notions. Listen to the words presented, really listen, and then make a decision.
I think there are many communication issues these days. I don’t know how closely people listen to one another, that they’re often not listening, but just thinking about how they’re going to respond. So here’s your homework: have a conversation (real- not on a text or an email) and really listen to what someone is saying. Ask for clarification if you’re unsure. Try to completely comprehend their unique point of view. Don’t interpret what they’re saying. Listen to them.