Communication has been a topic of interest to me for decades. I have studied the topic a lot. But, I still would challenge anyone who would say I know anything about communication. The learning curve is steep and in direct proportion to the potential for misinterpretation. But I also know I am not alone in my ignorance. I recently saw a truck stop marquee that read “eat here” on one line and “get gas” on the next. You and I both know the intent of the two messages was to promote the diner and remind people to look at their gas gauge. But combined, the messages communicated something completely.
My buddy and fellow storyteller, Andy Offutt Irwin, tells a great tale about a sign he saw during his travels that read, “Pick Your Own Strawberries.” He pulled off the road and found a container. No one appeared to be around and so he thought he would pay after he picked. Andy walked out into the patch and started picking. Suddenly an irate older gentleman was screaming as he ran out of the door. “Pick you own dang strawberries!”
Intent and the communicated, sometimes do not easily align.
Church bulletin announcements are ripe with examples of lost communication intent.
“For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.”
“Applications are being accepted for two-year-old nursery workers.”
“We had 22 guests Wednesday night, and duet was sang by Bob and Diane Smith. Lord knows why.”
“Kathy and George requests your presents at their wedding.”
Politics are no better. I looked and looked for a funny example. But political communications aren’t that funny. But misunderstanding seems to be rampant.
Sometimes additional questions are required to bring enlightenment. When I first came to Kentucky, way back in 1989, I ran afoul of the unique Kentucky phrase, “I don’t care to.” I asked the young lady if she would like to go to dinner and a movie. Her response? “I don’t care to.” Well, how about dancing? “I don’t care to.” Bowling? “I don’t care to.” I didn’t understand why she stomped her foot when I walked away. The phrase popped up everywhere; work, church, even the diner waitress got involved. “Would you bring me some catsup please”? “I don’t care to.” Moments later she appeared with the catsup.
Ah, a clue. She didn’t mind, care or have a conflict with, bringing me catsup. Oh! I had misunderstood each of those communications.
How? Was it due to my background? To me, “I don’t care to” meant that “I do not want to participate with you in that thing you are suggesting.” To most people in Kentucky, it means what it always meant to them, “Yes, I will cooperate and go with you to the movie, dancing, bowling and I will even bring you catsup.”
I am thinking about this because Mother’s Day is rushing upon us. My “Three Penny Momma” is no longer with my sisters and me. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have miscommunicated with my dear mother. The list rolls on and on around any of the special days. “I love you” never really said “I love you” the way I meant it. Though I continue to say, “I love you” over and over to this very day. Opportunities to really drive home my unbounded appreciation and affection for her guidance and wisdom and counsel fell hidden between the crevices somewhere between I and love and you.
Momma and I were talking the day she died. I was rubbing her neck and filling the awkward silence with stupid stuff we both knew were untrue. “When you get out of this hospital, I’m taking you to get the biggest hamburger in Abilene, Texas.” Momma played along, “Yes, a hamburger would taste so good right now.” Once during a pause, Mom spoke softly to me, “I am proud of you. You are one of the smartest people I have ever known. I just wish you knew more about people.”
Two hours later, Mom would be visiting with her parents again on the other side of the river. Strangely, her words still don’t sting. They were true words. I really do struggle to understand people. And I try too hard to tuck too much in between I and love and you.
This Mother’s Day, I hope you will communicate well, and much better than myself. My “Three Penny Momma,” yes, there’s a story please Google it, was a step-mom. If you have or are a step-mom, God bless you. You can’t begin to realize how lucky you are either way.
Don Buck P. Creacy can be reached at email@example.com.