I’m sipping my coffee, starting my day, and skimming headlines. It doesn’t take long; the news is filled with non-news about celebrity politicians and the presidential election draws near. I speed along contentedly and largely without stress by allowing myself a jovial mental reply to the headlines – as though a friend said it to me aloud. I move on from there, generally without reading the articles.  Over weeks they have degraded, lacking anything really new to say, becoming strident on all sides, using ‘shout louder’ hoping to gain readers, views, and clicks; reading the articles is already pointless, reading the comments would be a crime against my own humanity.

Skimming the headlines does get me thinking about language. It functions by agreement; differences in our “dictionary”, and thereby our “map of the world”, result in a lack of shared understanding. It would be nice if that were so obvious that each of us routinely would request clarification in conversation (“Would you define ‘liberal’, ‘conservative’, ‘urgent’, ‘required’, ‘necessary’, ‘obscene’, ‘family values’, ‘right wing’, ‘left wing’, ‘terrorism’, ‘racism’,… You see where that could be cumbersome?), but we don’t ask; we assume we share an understanding of common terms. We are routinely deceived or bamboozled when (and because) that is not actually the case. I will walk away from conversation with someone who says “that’s just semantics” when talking about the meanings of the words they choose to use in reply to a request for clarification. It was just such a moment that firmly made up my mind to leave my last job; I can’t work comfortably with someone who expresses the belief that the definitions of the words he uses are not relevant to communication. That’s just… yeah. “Meaning” is sort of the fucking point of communicating… for some of us. For others… well… words can be a shortcut to forcing their will on others, and for those folks, perhaps the actual meaning is less important than the outcome.

Meaning still matters – that it matters is independent of what we choose to do about that. Sort of like reality itself – which gives not one tinkers damn what our opinions are, or what we ‘believe’.

Take a minute and have some fun. How many terms in the prior paragraphs are too loosely defined to be sure that you and I are “on the same page”? 😉

A flock of geese walking by; how do they communication so well?

A flock of geese walking by; how do they communication so well?

I sip my coffee, now-cold in the chill morning air, and watch an enormous flock of Canada geese slow march across the lawn beyond the window. It’s been some weeks since I’ve seen so many, it tells me fall is approaching to see so many.  Is that ‘true’? Does it matter? Well… if I were a feral human in my natural environment potentially relying on a tasty goose to eat now and then, it very well might matter that I understand very well, and quite accurately, their comings and goings. As a suburbanite on the edge of a manicured and maintained not-at-all-wilderness, with a well-stocked pantry, running water, heat, indoor plumbing, and a bit of time on my hands, it’s comfortable to accept their comings and goings as part of the scenery, content with the notion that they are a harbinger of the season changing… maybe they are. My required level of accuracy seems conditional.

I continue to sip my cold coffee – it’s very tasty in spite of having gone cold – and mull things over. There is value in simple language. I like being well-understood. What has value but doesn’t come naturally is worth practicing.

Today is a good day to compare the map to the world; it is of greatest value when the map accurately reflects the world. Scale matters. Perspective, too. Today is a good day to change the map.  🙂