I had an interesting experience the other day here in the blogosphere. What made it interesting in retrospect was that it demonstrated to me the extent to which people can think they’re communicating when in fact they’re completely talking past each other.
Recently an acquaintance of mine has started reading my blog. This reader shall, of course, remain anonymous, except to say that she is someone I have known very well for a long time, and who has always encouraged my writing.
Anyway, she started leaving comments on some of my posts. This, in itself, was a minor miracle, since by her own admission she is just about the most computer illiterate person in the western hemisphere. But somehow she figured out how to navigate the WordPress software and began leaving comments that were effusive in their praise, to say the least.
Now I enjoy reading complimentary comments as much as anyone, but as this person happens to be an acquaintance of mine (which came through loud and clear in her comments), I felt a bit of restraint was called for here.
Here’s where it gets interesting. When I called her, she at first couldn’t understand why I had any objections to her comments. I, for my part, couldn’t understand why she was getting upset at my request. The conversation went on in this unproductive manner for about five minutes, until I suddenly realized that she was unaware that her comments were publicly viewable. She really had thought that her comments would be for my eyes only, and worded them as such.
So for five full minutes we were talking past each other, not to each other. We thought we were communicating, and we weren’t. Once she realized that everyone in the free world could read her comments, she immediately saw my point.
This is a classic example of something I have learned in life: never take it for granted that you are being understood, nor, for that matter, that you are understanding the other person. This was, of course, a tiny, tiny issue in the grand scheme of things, and yet it might have led to lingering bad feelings.
It makes me wonder how many times in the course of human history has a lack of communication led to tragic consequences. We think we’re communicating. We think we understand and are being understood, only to find out later we were wrong.
Robert Heinlein once wrote (as near as I can recall), “Your enemy is never evil in his own eyes. Realizing this may help you find a way to make him your friend.” Whether we’re talking about international relations or neighborhood relations, it might be a better world if everyone believed this.