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Communicating?

The Impossible Dream

I have a problem that transcends politics although it is not necessarily apart from politics and it involves the question of communicating with people with whom you seem to have nothing in common, other than being human beings, which should be given no short shrift.

With most people I meet, there seems to be a measure of common but unsaid understandings that make communication at least possible and relatively easy but when there seem to be no such unspoken or spoken understandings is where it becomes complicated. I think that is because when two people connect, they begin with assumptions and recognizable forms of body language that pave the way to communicate. But with some people, there seem to be no assumptions, body language can be easily misinterpreted and it may feel like you are speaking with someone in a different language but that should not stop attempts at talking and rather it should be considered as a challenge to be met, a big challenge. Too often, the inability to communicate is mistaken for hostility, even if it isn’t specifically recognized, in a downward glance, failure to make eye contact, a sigh of intolerance or a shift of impatience. Body language is easily misunderstood and it can spell death to any chance of communicating. Such differences between unrelated acqaintances can be chalked up to a defeat and a sign to move on to other more likely and more rewarding relationships. It becomes infinitely more complicated and immeasurably more vital when the situation involves a father and child, brothers, sisters, spouses. Such rich and irreplaceable relationships should not be easily dumped because they are indeed unique and once gone, they may be gone forever. Excuses don’t wash, like “they just don’t understand” or “why bother, it’s impossible to get through” or “I really don’t care” because they are nothing more than statements of frustration and an expression of defeat.

The most obvious example of these botherations involves politics and particularly the current, seemingly insurmountable, diametrically and sometimes violent views about the country, whether it is supporting trump or following the Black Lives Matter movement. The differences seem toxic and any attempt to get by them to a point of communicating seems doomed. But politics is just one obstacle to two people being able to speak and understand each other. Another related roadblock is worldview and often people just see reality in utterly different ways, like the one person who believes in God and the other being a non-believer, creating a potential minefield of mutual destruction, unless they can agree, as they say, to disagree and respect each other.

Simply put, how can you resist the temptation of challenging another person who may seem to have the most outrageous, illogical and unethical beliefs? That time bomb is a recipe for communications disaster and furthermore, what makes you think you know better even if you do. Everyone has a right to their opinions and even their facts even if they are right out of the absurdities of the QAnon playbook. The QAnon believers really think they are right and if that’s a game-breaker to communication, then get over it and find some relative common ground, like baseball.

If by communicating, you mean getting your point across and having it validated, then it may be close to impossible to communicate with people who see life in a totally different way than you do. But communication is possible if it means trying to find common ground, expressing support for another’s viewpoints, understanding that a different perspective is not a wrong perspective and above all projecting respect for the other person’s mindset and that poses a tricky balancing act so as not to seem condescending, which can happen almost invisibly.

Of course, you can always just throw in the towel, admit defeat and accept that there are no avenues open with some people but that sounds more like a condescending excuse not to accept that others may express different but valid points of view or even that your reality is not so pure. And by admitting vanquishment, it closes the door to any chance of healthy and meaningful communication and maybe even a positive surprise or two.

And there is a final possibility where the target of your communications refuses to play and picks up his marbles and leaves. In that case, the game’s over, at least for now as it takes two to tango or talk.

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