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Something we all know, but never actually take on board.

Every time you open your eyes you look through the filter of your experiences, beliefs, and culture. You are not objective. No one is objective.

Every time you listen to what someone else is saying, you listen through the veil of your experiences, beliefs, prejudices, orthodoxy. You are not objective. You are in all probability ascribing other meanings to what they are saying than the ones they intended when they chose those words. No one is objective.

There is no perfect method of communication. Two brains cannot directly share information. Everything must be encoded in language or symbols, and decoded again at the other end. Language is an imperfect tool. There are no perfect tools.

Not only does language imperfectly describe the thoughts and experiences of the person attempting to communicate, but your own, our own thoughts and experiences, prejudices, and culture also colours what you understand of their linguistic encoding. Ten people can hear the same speech and come away with ten different opinions of what the speaker meant, and none of them will be what the speaker intended.

You cannot tell someone what they intended, you can only tell them what you understood. You cannot tell someone what they understood, only what you intended.

Language is an imperfect tool. It becomes even more imperfect when we assume that it is perfect and that our own understanding is the same as someone else’s intention.

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
Attributed to Robert McCloskey

Filed under: content: essay, , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. pauladkin says:

    This is true. But don’t we have to ignore it in order to be able to try and communicate anything at all?

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