I’m not a particularly patient person. I’m reminded of this shortcoming every time I get in a car. No, I don’t subscribe to out-of-control road rage, but I do tap the steering wheel and “yell” at the cars going under the speed limit or straddling the lane lines. (I offset this aggravation by singing along with the radio, but only if I’m alone. Yes, I’m weird.) I also try to avoid offensive gestures unless they’re directed my way first, which doesn’t happen very often.
On closer inspection, there’s something interesting that happens when we drive our cars: we’ve created another, mostly non-verbal language to effectively communicate actions and behavior. What does your driving language say about you? Do you use your signal? Do you yield to oncoming traffic? Do you run red lights?
Think about the judgment calls you’ve made concerning other drivers. For example, if there’s really as many idiots in the world as my driving experience would indicate, we’re in trouble. However, I suspect just like our verbal language skills, our driving language skills aren’t always adequate to the situation.
One day driving home from work on the freeway, I carefully checked my mirrors and went to move into the right lane. I’m not sure if it was a shadow or just a quick look, but I luckily saw the motorcycle previously in my blind spot just seconds prior to completing my move. A quick wave from myself and the motorcyclist made it clear that we were both aware of the close call. But what if I hadn’t seen him in that split second? Regardless of how carefully I checked my mirrors and looked around, there still could have been an accident.
Causing Language Crashes
I think these accidents happen in regular language, too. We know all the “rules,” we try to carefully consider all the circumstances, but sometimes it still isn’t enough and we end up making a gaffe, creating a language crash. Most of our individual language crashes don’t amount to much, unless we happen to be in the public eye.
Our fear of crashes can inhibit us from saying things of value. Modern day business and politics punishes crashes so harshly that our leaders have taken refuge in meaningless, lifeless rhetoric that tells us little but lowers their risk of a crash. I’ve said many times that I’d much rather engage in conversation with someone I disagree with 100%, if she is equally engaged, versus chatting with someone who completely agrees with me, but can’t tell me why he does.
No Patience for Language
We’ve run out patience with our language. I haven’t decided if it’s a time issue, where we think we shouldn’t have to listen as much or as closely to get the message, or if it’s a question of knowledge. I posted before about how I tend to use “big” words and some friends like to tease about my word usage. To me, it’s not a question of using big words. I’m using my vocabulary. It just happens that my vocabulary is a little larger than most.
Sometimes I feel sheepish when I get the “look” that I’ve used yet another “big” word, but at the same time, why are we so willing to put words into categories? I don’t think we should all be walking around with dictionaries, but I’m not convinced that words should go unspoken simply because they aren’t common. The same goes for the thoughts and ideas we share with one another.
Accepting the Language Challenge
Today’s politicians aren’t necessarily any worse or better than their predecessors. The same goes for CEOs of large companies and any other individual in a position of authority. Today’s leaders, however, face the dreaded sound bite and a public with an increasingly short attention span who has little interest in hearing an opinion that differs from their own. So we hear very little that challenges us and even less that interests or moves us.
You should be challenged when leaders, or anyone else for that matter, speaks. I’m not calling for adding unneeded complexity to our conversations. Rather, I’m pushing for adding new ideas that challenge the status quo, forcing you to determine what you really believe. Do you actually prefer hearing the same thing over and over again just because it’s easy to understand?
To break the cycle, we have to increase our patience for language and ideas. We have to embrace all parts of language, even the one’s we may not fully understand yet or that make us uncomfortable. We have to be open to crashing more than once as we pursue long-term ideas and results that take time and patience, two things that seem to be lacking in today’s society.
What about you? Have you crashed lately?