On Clumsy Communication

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You were the only one who understood me. And you got it wrong, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the German philosopher, lamented from his death bed to his best and favorite student. i mourn that realization to my students, friends and wife. when old age creeps in, a deeper sense of loneliness invades invidiously. this slow nagging realization that i have never been understood by others weights heavy. clashing thoughts clutter my mind. they threaten my ontology; they interrogate my epistemology; they deceive my self-awareness. if others do not know me then do i know myself; if others misunderstand me, then do i understand myself. once upon a time i wanted to believe that if the people i care for and work with make conversations, in time we would share a common language toward common understanding.    

Some time ago, in a moment of existential weakness, it seeped out that there is a profound misunderstand in my marriage. a pervasiveness we will never overcome. then i realize that this same pervasive misunderstanding hangs over all my relationships. so much of our pathology contributes to it. we were raised wrong; we were never taught how to listen. along the way our ineptitude has evolved into pathos of fears, biases and prejudices. our faulty assumptions have shaped our unrealistic expectations of others. we understand others not as they are but as we have, our incomplete and inadequate self.    

The repertoire of our vernaculars is narrow; the reservoir of our syntaxes is shallow. adding to that deficiency there is our deficiency of knowledge. our memories are faulty – we remember things not as they were but as we remember them. the timing of our conversations is never quite right. it seems always inappropriate to talk with someone. either that person is not ready or we are quiet up-to-it. what we say is seldom what we mean; what people hear is seldom what we say; what we mean is seldom is what they perceive; what they perceive is seldom what they understand.   

Human communication at best is clumsy, and at worst, mis-information. the irony is that the closer we are with someone, the more difficult it is to make conversation. the closer we are to someone, the more ubiquitous is our grudges, disappointments and hard feelings in our conversations. our ear tunnels are clogged with these residual memories. Psalm 40.6 talks about our walk with God and how God has to dig open our obstructed ears so we can hear God properly. it is true in prayers, so it is true in our other conversations. any meaningful sounds have to travel through that barricade of preconceived notions that are wrong. by the time the words get to our cognition, their original intent is contaminated beyond understanding.   

Just the other day, a misunderstand between a friend and i egregiously damaged our friendship.  separately we both prayed in earnest for the other to understand where we were coming from and what we meant. finally one of us had enough courage to reach out to the other. sitting at a mid-town café, over coffee and cookies, we talked but with great hesitation. we both confessed that it was an misunderstanding but understood that confession differently. and it was not the first time we had a misunderstanding. many years of selfishness and insensibility had piled a heap of unspoken grudges. and when we talked in the past, timing was impeccably out of sync. while one was trying to be transparent, the other sought shelter from honesty. while one was going through something awful, the other was imperviously self-absorbed to share the pain. while one was growing in one direction, the other was wandering another.

During that last encounter, quietly i feared that a new misunderstand was already percolating. as earnest as we tried to clear the air, when we left each other, both realized privately that the thick fog that had descended on our friendship still lingered. i did not know where my friend went after we parted, but in quietude, i did not look forward to see nor talk with him again, nor anyone else soon for that matter. instead i retreated to my solace of solitude to be alone with the alone. human communication is simply impossible.