The Limitations of Language

Friday, 12 August 2011

How often do you get surprised by your own words?

I reread my blog post from yesterday, and felt with a bit of a sinking feeling that maybe the tone I thought I was conveying was not, I don't think, conveyed :)  (I am feeling rather paranoid at the moment though, so who knows?  I am worrying far too much about what other people think, and second-guessing everything, which is a pretty ridiculous way of giving away your own power.  Much better to take that energy worrying about other people and putting it into being wary of my own immediate perceptions.  That sounds like a negative, but it is not - questioning my limited perceptions is often illuminating and sometimes I even get surprised by the joy that comes from that.  It takes me out beyond myself, into the field).

But anyway, where was I?  It is an interesting feeling when you reread something that you wrote in a lighthearted, slightly self-deprecating (I am Australian, after all) but ultimately positive mood, only to discover on your second reading that maybe it reads more small-minded and cynical and negative than you actually felt or intended.

Does this happen often with you when you write?  Or even when you speak?  Are you sometimes surprised afterwards at how people respond (or don't respond) to what you thought was plainly conveyed?  Human interaction is an art, after all.  And writing as a method of communication is a sort of strange thing to do, when you think about it.  Funny little scrabbled bits on a page or a screen are a step removed from conveying them ourselves.  And even conveying them ourselves ... well, when you think about the complexity of it all, to convey something from my mind to yours involves not only my ability to use the right words in the first place, but to get those words out past my face and body to you in a way that you get where I'm coming from.  The chances of you picking up on my slightly raised eyebrow, or my quirky use of a word that in my family had a slightly different connotation than it did in yours, is complexified by the fact that I remind you a little of your auntie who was mean, compounded by the fact that you are distracted by your iPhone pinging and that you don't understand why I'm talking about this particular thing because you have forgotten my comment about it yesterday, and if you remembered that then what I am saying right this minute would take on a completely different complexion.

Really and honestly, connecting with each other - even in person with all of the non-spoken body language that according to some conveys as much as 90% of our intention - is an art, and a hit-and-miss affair.  It requires time and questioning, silence and processing, a reasonable memory, focus and patience, shifting gears and changing lanes and using your indicators.  And even then we can't ever really truly-rooly completely understand where another person is coming from or who another person is.

Which is a fearful thing.  Other people can be hell, but even on good days they can often be scary to us, incomprehensible, even the ones we love, especially in the uber-fast turbulent world we all find ourselves in now.  But yet for all of that, the person in front of you being able to hurt you, misunderstand you, abuse you, is a mystery.  They are dark and beautiful and deep, of far more complexity and beauty than they often know themselves, or that your fears or your media want you to believe.

Because ultimately, despite the fact that we are all separate and isolated, out beyond that where the silence is, there we are all one, no matter how fucked-up with fear and greed it gets.  And science and the spirituality of all religions are in agreement on that one.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.

~ Rumi


  1. Language is symbols, which mean different things to different people. The message gets scrambled, 'cos the listener doesn't have the 'decode' key.

    And, as ever, Rumi gets as close to Truth as language can:)

  2. I agree with Harry about symbols. Even if having the same precise definition of a word, it can still give different perceptions to people. So often when I think I'm being perfectly clear, something I say will make no sense to a person, or even offend them.

    Body language certainly is an element, but then I think I have learned so much about communication from all these non-face people I have known over the years. Sometimes I have to rephrase something to reach the person on the other end. It's good learning.

  3. Where to start? Yes I do experience this - I suppose disconnect is the right word - between what I believe I've plainly conveyed and the reaction it elicits. (I recall writing one post several weeks ago, sitting back satisfied and waiting for the comments to flood in. And waiting... and waiting...)

    Now on to your post on Thursday, my reaction to it was different from both your thoughts! It read to me as powerful, real and actually encouraging for any writer. Not self-deprecating, and not cynical and certainly nowhere near small-minded.

    I think we bring our own selves so inextricably to what we read (and see, and hear) that there's no one truth to words.

    Except perhaps Rumi!

  4. Harry - a "decode" key would be interesting, wouldn't it.

    Erin - that is good learning isn't it, having to rephrase stuff so other people get where you're coming from. Even though at the time it can feel like quite a challenge :)

    Tess - ahh, ye olde "this post is gonna touch everybody" ... and then no one comments. Haha. Glad I'm not the only one :)

    Thank you so much for your comment here. I took its encouragement and ate it up, yum yum. I really appreciated you saying that, it made me realise that (again) I'm being uber-paranoid.

    No one truth to words - yeah :)

  5. interpretation!

    when anyone responds to artwork, writing, photos, prose, it is always a combination of what the other person put out there and how the reader/viewer sees it

    sometimes what was intended, and what the other person sees or hears are two entirely different creatures

    perhaps we could create a new widget:
    the silly duffers score card
    5 points to the person who totally gets me and commented as I think they should have
    3 points to the person who at least made an effort to comment, even if I what they said made me think WTF!?!
    0 points to the people who just come and read and don't make any comment at all

    so . . . did I score a 3 ?


  6. Haha, Kel :)

    I'll give you a 4.5. Four because nobody ever TOTALLY gets me (although in this case you totally got my post, and I'm just being difficult :p)

    I'll give you .5 for using the word "duffer" in your comment :p

  7. so glad you can appreciate my silly duffer suggestion

  8. Sue, thanks for your comment on Pilgrim's Moon.
    I like your playful reinventing of word forms — "complexified by the fact" is so beautiful — there are no "facts" anyway 'cause all's in flux. We can't even look into the mirror twice and see the same person.

  9. To find the bridges that help connect us to others is difficult indeed. Arguably the most difficult tasks of all human activity. And yet the most important. The act of writing as a way of expressing oneself or reading what another has written as an attempt to understand what they were trying to express will always be problematic. Communication with the hopes of connecting with the best chance of being heard and understood must include the immediate response of those listening and the immediate redefining/clarification of what was meant by what one said. And as you said Sue...that is an artistic endeavor. And that artistry seems to be in decline in the discourse of the day which more resembles intersecting monologues instead of dialog.

    "There is an artfulness in being human." Ellen Davis

  10. Tenar - hi there, and thanks for dropping into my blog. And thanks for the compliment - I do like wrapping myself up in word forms :) And there's something comforting about knowing we don't see the same person in the mirror twice ... and challenging too :)

    Kent - the artfulness of being human. Now, I do wish they'd teach more of *that* in school. Although some of those art forms are invisible until you're older anyway. A lifelong cultivation :)

    It's so true, that artistry is in decline isn't it. Especially with things running in such high octane speed - much more difficult to even realise that you're NOT focussing on the other person.

    Here's to greater artistic cultivation *clink*

  11. " Are you sometimes surprised afterwards at how people respond (or don't respond) to what you thought was plainly conveyed? Human interaction is an art, after all."

    I was out a few weeks ago with 2 colleagues. The discussion turned to religious belief, one was a hardcore atheist, one a believer. They debated for a few minutes and then turned to me and asked me what I believed, I conveyed my thoughts as best I could, upon which both of them turned to me and said "yes, that's what I believe" :D

  12. Stu - wow! That is SO cool :) I love your comment - within the limitations of language, the three of you flew right out the other side into common ground. The most delicious sort of common ground where the atheist lies down with the believer ;)

  13. Hey :)
    Communication can be so tedious...but it's still a lovely art. I know it will persevere. We have to fight for it.
    love, manu

  14. Manuela!!! You're so right, we do have to fight for it, don't we. So easy to misconstrue what other people are saying. Especially if I'm feeling vulnerable or defensive (which happens more often than I would like unfortunately :(

    Good to "see" you! :)

  15. Hey there, Jane.  Thanks for your lufferly comment :)

    The uber sensitive thing is just a drag, isn't it?  I feel like I've got CFS under control now;  I can go for months thinking that I definitely don't have it anymore.  But something has changed, though, I'm never gonna be the same as I was before.  Had a big social weekend and by last night I was just FRAZZLED. Some people do that every weekend;  I felt like I was totally drained from being around the energy of so many people.

    It's a long struggle.  Good to have a name (although not such a great one, really) for this thing you've been struggling with for over 25 years.  Don't give up!!  :)

  16. Hi Sue, so pleased that you should call by and comment. It's always interesting to meet up with someone else who has knowledge of the mysterious 'lurgy' M.E./Chronic Fatigue, especially one who has had some recovery and distance from the thing. It looks like I've had it for over 25 years now, so I'm still waiting and vainly hoping. Interesting your comment that it seems to have left you 'uber-sensitive' as I'm finding increasing intolerances to numerous different foods and mega-sensitivity to practically everything, to the point that my G.P. laughing said on Monday, "You're just a sensitive-Soul Jane".
    "Thanks a bunch but I'd rather be just bog-standard if you can fix that please!"

    I really admire your writing! And I loved the Rumi poem. I totally identified with your lines..

    'Other people can be hell, but even on good days they can often be scary to us, incomprehensible, even the ones we love, especially in the uber-fast turbulent world we all find ourselves in now.'

    Strange how we all think of everyone else has life 'all down patt'. For years I used to think somehow God had omitted to give me the instruction map everyone else appeared to have.

    I shall add your blog to my bloglist and join your Followers. Thanks so much for your lovely words painting the picture of your nine year old self gazing at the words Polska drifting across your stamp-collection. I too collected stamps at that same age and can remember those same stamps. I shall also avoid.. avoid Disqus so thanks for that tip. I think this might just be the longest comment I've ever left anyone, so I'm hoping it might make up a teeny-bit for having lost all your others! :)))

    Hugs Jane


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