Friday, April 10, 2009

Barbie the Chip

Here's a simple question. If a Uranite (a native of the planet Uranus) were to come to Earth and try to communicate with us, we probably would not be surprised to find that we had no bloody idea what he (or she or it) was trying to say. Why? The reason why is obvious, because they were communicating in a different language (unless it was an episode of Star Trek where everyone in the universe conveniently speaks english). However, even if two creatures (let's call them "people") try to converse, they may speak the same language, but still may be miles apart from understanding each other. Words and sounds and gestures can all be absolutely alien if our brains are not deciphering their full meaning. This can lead to very serious (and sometimes fatal) misunderstandings between individuals and even groups of people. I was reminded of this fact the other day in a conversation that my daughter and I were having as we drove along in the car. She was talking and I was talking, she was explaining and I was explaining, she was laughing and I sat confused as nothing should have been that funny. It was then that I realized that we were engaged in two very different conversations. I thought she was talking about "Barbie Q-tips". Barbie, the ubiquitous female ideal that adorns lots of kid-related products and fills half the toy departments of the world. Q-tips, the name-brand cotton swabs we all have in our bathrooms. It turned out that she was talking about "barbeque chips". Once I figured this out and explained to her what was going on, we both had a great laugh, with ensuing side pains and eye tearage. However, the lesson is clear and the warning is relevant and important. Simple misunderstandings and communication breakdowns lead to us leaving discussions without really understanding what the other person is saying or their reasoning. This can build up walls and distance. From time to time we need to stop and actually listen to be sure that we stand on common ground.