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The Bridge: Fighting Words
By Darryl James
The biggest mistake is in believing there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation--or a relationship.
Remember the communication model we learned about in high school?
Well, it's amazing how many people obviously ignored it, or just mentally went out to lunch during the lesson. I say this because fewer and fewer people are bothering to communicate properly and fewer people seem to care.
This is a huge problem because violence and/or chaos are in play simply because of misunderstandings.
In the traditional communication model, there is a sender and a receiver.
The two are attempting to communicate, but because they each have different realities (experiences, religion, politics, other idea sets, etc.), the message may be received differently from the intent of the sender.
In order for communication to be effective, the two have to agree on sharing some of each other's reality. With a shared area of reality, the message can be better encoded by the sender and better decoded by the receiver.
It seems Americans used to understand that there were a multitude of people in the nation and that we all had varying backgrounds and experiences.
Now, we either have forgotten, or we simply don't care.
Battle lines are being drawn over misunderstandings that at their core aren't really that deep.
For example, I will make an admission.
I use curse words.
Like many adults in America, I use curse words and I don't care what anyone thinks. I've heard the old adage that says people use curse words when they have small vocabularies, but with a nickname like "The Funky Wordsmith," that is far from my situation.
Frankly, I like those words. And since I am an adult, I use them. I may not use them in front of my elders, in front of my son or in mixed unfamiliar company, but when I deem appropriate, I use the words I feel like using.
The reason why I am pointing this out is because for whatever reason, some people imagine that they can set ground rules for other people's communication, without examining their own contribution to the communication process.
Situations can escalate to violence because buttons are pushed. In some situations, one person believes that they are without blame because of imaginary lines drawn between cursing with insults and insults without cursing, but there is very little difference between insinuating that someone is weak and stupid and telling someone flat out to go to hell.
One person may ask why cursing had to be introduced, while another may focus on the insinuations. The person who is offended by the cursing may ask why cursing and name calling had to begin, but the perception of the first party may have been that it was already on that level.
The point is that once you introduce insults--perceived or real--there are no longer any rules.
And, one person doesn't get to decide what insults another person.
Trust me, there is no enlightened discussion following the launching of insults. If you disagree with someone and want to have a conversation, hurling insults will neither curry favor, nor stimulate open communication. It may simply get you cursed out and/or ignored.
We have difficulties talking about politics and religion, not because they are highly emotionally charged issues, but because we simply do not know how to exchange and disagree with respect and without emotional dissonance.
In dating, we often take the worst approach possible, focusing on the things that make us divergent, as opposed to searching for the things that we have in common. We outline differences in religion, politics and economic backgrounds, often using these items as reasons to move on, as opposed to employing communication and compromising skills, in order to merge our divergent interests into something good for both parties.
Two people may be from different households, with different upbringings, perhaps even from different cities and/or states, in addition to the fact that they are male and female, yet the expectations are that two human beings will fall right into each other's way of thinking, including politics and religion, with no work involved.
We can find plenty of examples of people from divergent backgrounds who date, fall in love and marry. One of the most public examples is California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a foreign-born Republican, who married Maria Shriver, a woman from one of the most historically staunch Democratic families in the nation.
Yet, everyday, people break up or exit the dating process because they can't communicate.
Many of us are such poor communicators, that we don't know how to accept divergent views and focus on the exchange. Instead, we focus on trying to convince the other person that they are wrong and we are right. Trust me, this method will ALWAYS fail.
It is inappropriate to focus on convincing the other person that you are correct, as opposed to exchanging ideas and information without judgement. It really is possible to hold different beliefs and still be good people. Different is not always bad.
You have to ask yourself: What is it you hope to garner from your communication? Is your only goal to get what you want or to actually learn about and understand the other person?
There is no communication when one or both parties are unconcerned with the other side's reality.
Two people can see the same thing at the same time and still walk away with divergent perceptions.
In order for two people to communicate, there has to be some kind of shared space, where the communicators either agree naturally or compromise to agree. Only when a compromise on reality exists is communication actually taking place.
This doesn't mean that you have to agree with the other person's idea, just that you have to agree to understand the substance of what they are saying. The reverse also applies.
And there is no communication when people allow emotions to cloud everything.
According to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, "The improper handling of emotion does not allow us to grow beyond Self. It makes our reasoning subjective and clouds our judgements of individuals, circumstances, and events. It makes us judge individuals, circumstances, and events by how we are affected personally, thus we never see the bigger picture. Improper handling of emotion makes us judge selfishly."
If we sincerely wish to move towards enlightenment and to exchange with each other for the purpose of growth, we have to learn to cast our emotions aside periodically. Otherwise, we may just as well curse each other out and be done with it.
You may have just uttered fighting words.
Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology "Notes From The Edge." Now, listen to Darryl live on BlogTalkRadio.com/DarrylJames every Monday from 7-9pm, PST. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at