Every act of communication is an act of translation
-From “If This Be Treason”, by Gregory Rabassa
“Communication is key”. How often have you heard that phrase, or one like it? For me, so often that it has become a total cliche. But the truth is that from co-workers to loved ones, communication is inherent in everything we do, yet people still don’t seem to fully grasp its importance. I recently read The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley and one of the “ah ha” moments I had was in regards to how vitally important communication is and how poorly we oftentimes communicate topics of great meaning.
Huxley writes that “each man is an island” which is a way of saying a truth that philosophers have known for a long time: only you are aware of what’s going on in your mind (and even that is up for debate). That is, let’s say you have a wonderful eye-opening life-altering experience one day; with clarity you realized a great truth about the world. If you don’t share that with anyone, the only place that experience exists is in your own mind. As soon try and tell other people, however, the words you are using are just approximations. I can say “I felt so extremely happy” but that doesn’t mean the person I’m telling has any idea what I mean. They will pull into their memory-bank of the times when they were “extremely happy” and try and relate. Most of the time we are communicating, even in the same language, I think the message gets lost in translation. Unfortunately, this is particularly an issue when we are trying to describe things we really care about. Most people I think are peripherally aware of this, but still use words like “epic” and “very” and “extremely” to get their point across.
What are the ways we can improve our awareness of meaning? Huxley mentions meditation and drugs as two ways, and his book is about his experience using the latter to do so. What about our communication of that awareness?
One is being precise as possible with our words.
Another is toning down our reliance on words. Huxley has an astute criticism of American education (the book was written in 1954 but I think the point still holds weight): we rely too much on words to communicate meaning. I think we would all be better off if we consciously worked at increasing not only our ability to communicate, but also our receptiveness to others’ communication styles.
In this blog I’ll be visit the topic of communication frequently. One of the ways I will begin exploring this is through communicating Travel Experiences