Friday, April 07, 2006
A failure to communicate
OmegaMom reads a particular adult Korean adoptee's blog on a fairly regular basis. So do other adoptive parents on the Big List. We're reading the same things. OmegaMom comes away from this person's blog seeing an almost-30 gal who is a successful freelance journalist, married to a loving person, a kick-ass writer, funny, loving, living a good life--who happens to have a few issues about being an Asian-American adoptee. Other people come away from her blog seeing a bitter, maladjusted, Adult Adoptee With Issues. Yet another person (well-loved by OmegaMom) reads a post on the same person's blog and comes away offended at being labeled as "having no culture"--whereas I read that same post and came away seeing people who are trying to appropriate their adopted child's culture being labeled as "living in fear of having no culture". Two totally different interpretations. In another scene, a famed and noted population ecologist gives a speech at the Texas Academy of Sciences, urging, among other things, that humanity should be stewards of the earth, rather than dominators of the earth. He further goes on to reiterate what population biologists have been saying for years: a crowded population of any species that overruns its habitat is a tempting biological target for disease to ravage, and humanity is reaching that point. A few hundred attendees stand and applaud. One attendee listens and hears a Dr. Strangelove plotting to eliminate 90% of the human population, or luring his students to do so, and writes it up that way in a newspaper. The scientist is overwhelmed with death threats and a visit from the Department of Homeland Security as a result. (OmegaBro, an ecologist Ph.D., when questioned about this dude, responded with typical turgidity that included phrases such as "We are not actually speaking of simple linear starvation models here, but, rather, much more complex models of multiple system insults and cumulative debilitative effects, embedded in extraordinary spatio-temporal heterogeneity of drivers and responses... " I dearly love OmegaBro. I really, truly do. The scary thing is that I understood what he was saying. The heart-rending thing is that I read that and it is my dad all over again, except with an emphasis in ecology, not mathematics and physics.) In an online debate, OmegaMom once said that she understood people who had children that died returning to work right away, because they might see work as a distraction from grief. One reader took this as a recommendation that all parents do this, and scathingly took OmegaMom to task as a cold, heartless person who had no understanding of just how horrible having a child die would be. (Luckily, the majority of the people in the debate realized what OmegaMom's point was; otherwise OmegaMom might have checked herself into a hospital for some severe headshrinking to figure out why what she said one way got warped into something totally different.) It's a game of telephone out there. No matter what you say or write or express through art, your audience will view it through their own perceptions, their own filters. Even if you strive to be precise in an email, say, your typical reader reads the first paragraph only, and you are doomed to frustration when your coworker comes and asks you a series of questions, all of which were already answered in your email. If I say "green", what do you see? If you say "tasty", does your "tasty" mean the same thing as what I mentally taste? We all strive to communicate, and society has shortcuts and conventions that help. So when you do say "green", you can at least have a fair assurance that what I see will be related to what you were talking about. But when you bring emotional overtones into what is being said--adoption issues, doomsday scenarios of the earth, grief over a child--the message you try to convey will be read through a myriad of personal lenses. Sometimes the message that ends up being conveyed will leave you gasping, floundering, saying, "But...but...But that's not what I meant!"