Monday, January 3, 2011

Communication

I listened with interest to a keynote speech a few years ago as part of a professional development day for the school district. The speaker was a Russian Orthodox priest who is probably the only white guy in the world who can speak fluent Yu'pik Eskimo. He works with Yu'piks and is married to one. The main point of his speech was how difficult communication is, especially across cultural lines.

He told a story of how a Yu'pik victim in court said, "And he [the defendant] let me into his car." The jury wound up convicting the defendant on a lesser charge. What the victim meant by these words was, "And he forced me into his car." What a difference it would have made had the jury understood what was meant by the words, rather than what they actually heard. For the victim, English was a second language.

The speaker drew a couple of circles on the white board. They overlapped like a Venn diagram. He said that even in the best of circumstances, when the cultures are the same and the people have the similar educational backgrounds, communication isn't precise. What is said, and what is heard don't always correlate.

He went on to say that when people of different cultures try to communicate, the circles overlap even less. That's what happened to the Yu'pik crime victim. I think that's what happens to us Aspies, as well.

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