My son and I have been having a lot of conversations about how people communicate. It is one of those life lessons that isn’t taught in school, or often even at home. Nuance, sarcasm, reading between the lines, being assertive versus being aggressive or passive-aggressive, feeling heard, re-framing an argument, accusations, tone of voice, expressions, gas-lighting, body language, and the hardest of all, listening to hear the other side. Unfortunately, most of us pick up these skills on the playground long before they are somewhat addressed in school. Those who don’t learn them are misunderstood and often disciplined by adults for not understanding what is expected, or left to be picked apart by bullies socially, and often have a low-self esteem for not being able to live up to social standards.
We’ve had tons of fodder recently. Watching clips of 45’s speeches and his tweets have been a lesson in how a person can twist the truth to accuse others of what he himself is doing. They’ve been a lesson in how people try to shape our reality by telling us what is real and what isn’t, despite our actual experience, or by telling us that our experience is wrong. They’ve been a lesson in how people over-use words like “Ok” in a forceful way as an indication that they are right, and you’d better understand that point of view, as though you are a 4 year old being told that this is how things are, period. They’ve been a lesson in every type of fallacy of logic that exists. They’ve been a lesson in mudslinging and character assassination as a tool to deflect responsibility for one’s own actions or emotions. They’ve been a lesson in deconstructing and separating valid points from the rest of the above, to see the meaning behind the rhetoric and form our own conclusions based on our own experience. And they’ve held many more lessons.
I’m grateful to have the opportunity to engage in these kinds of discussions with my kid, because I didn’t have them when growing up myself, and had to learn many communication and social skills the hard way. The assumptions we make about how to interact with other humans can be devastating when we don’t have this kind of information. It puts an individual at risk for abusive relationships, miscommunication on the job, social difficulties, and being gullible in many areas. It puts their future families at risk for perpetuating the inability to listen and communicate well, and sets them up for difficulties in getting the most out of an education. It puts a society at risk for being scammed by politicians, businessmen, clergymen, and pundits who were groomed to manipulate people with language, ideals, and rhetoric.
For myself, common-sense communication is a matter of asking questions and slowing down enough to listen to the answers, rather than trying to think of the next thing to say. It’s also about slowing down enough to make sure I’m understood, and to re-evaluate my communication methods and even my position. This way, it’s not a matter of being right or wrong as a matter of character, but instead as a matter of fact and experience… neither of which can be changed, only redefined (hopefully for it’s meaning for the greater good). I’m grateful for this opportunity to learn with my son… and these times are ripe with opportunity and possibility to shift our trajectory, if we only take the initiative to work past our initial reactions to follow the possible prospects for a better experience.