Long before laser printers and warp speed word processors, long before the first sheets of papyrus recorded human presence, our ancestors engineered ways to shout, “I am, I say.” Not only did early Homo sapiens devise ways of communicating their existence, but examples of their expression have endured the centuries. One wonders how long our Cloud data will survive.
Given an abbreviated life span of 20 – 35 years, one also wonders how early humans related to time, to history, to posterity? Did the person scratching and pecking outlines of animals on smooth rock walls conceive that this work would record flora, fauna, and life style to future generations? Did artists, who mixed iron-rich clay to paint pictographs from humble to astonishingly beautiful, intend to leave a record of their existence or merely to communicate their presence to other clans? Or were they simply doing what the muse required of them? Theories abound, but definitive answers evade the might of modern science.
Ancient artistry is often hidden underground or deep inside caves that have yet to be discovered. Southern Idaho sits atop the remnants of ancient volcanic eruptions. Lava flowed across the land through hardened conduits of quickly cooled rock which created underground tubes and caves. These lava tubes sheltered humans and animals alike. The smooth rock walls formed a natural canvas for ancient graffiti. Through the centuries, the lava tubes collapse, their smooth walls crumble apart, landing willy-nilly like a collapsed Trade Center. Miles upon miles of collapsed lava beds pepper this part of the state. It takes sharp eyes paired with sturdy hiking boots to find works of ancient art where crumbled walls have fallen open to reveal the treasure left by some small, sunburned artist from long ago.
These petroglyphs are located on private property where only a handful of individuals know of their existence. I was following the footsteps of a local. Even though she knew where they were, it was difficult to zero in on them.
I am only a casual observer. I do not know the age of these ancient writings. An expert eye might pick out modern graffiti mixed in with the pictographs. That would be unfortunate but not unexpected, given their location in an area heavily used by white-water rafters.
The evidence of diligent rock-bloggers suggests that the need for expression is as innate as our need to procreate.(Click on the images to expand for greater detail.)
“Oh yeah!! It seems like family communication is both the easiest and hardest of all. Easiest because there’s so much shared understanding and experience. Hardest because the unconscious taboos of each family are so deeply embedded and defended. And I think you’re right about possible power imbalances…it seems like there can be a LOT about establishing and maintaining a power structure underneath the ideas actually being communicated.”
The above comment on my most recent post is from a valued reader. Apparently Blogger has unilaterally decided to censor her comments. What’s up with that? Grrrr.
For me, family communication is harder than it is easier. No, that’s not exactly fair. I do have family members with whom I communicate as if they were alter-egos. Oddly, that level of understanding and empathy exists in spite of (or because of?) a language barrier. But in other cases, rewarding communication eludes me.
I keep returning to the commenter’s sentence, “Easiest because there’s so much shared understanding and experience.” In my case, there may be shared experiences but there is very little shared understanding of those experiences. This goes back to what I mentioned in the earlier post about the importance of context in communication.
A simple definition of context from http://www.thefreedictionary.com explains context as “the conditions and circumstances that are relevant to an event, fact, etc.” The same site defines perspective as “the proper or accurate point of view or the ability to see it.”
Two people may share an experience, but what each takes away from that experience will vary based upon their individual perspectives. Perspective is relative and depends upon physical location as well as historic background and schema.
For example: Two cars collide at an intersection. The police interview both drivers and three bystanders. How likely is it that all five reports will be the same? The bystanders observed the event from different perspectives. One bystander noticed a child’s ball rolling in the street near the intersection. The other bystanders couldn’t see the ball from where they were standing. The drivers’ perspectives include a plethora of background distractions which muddle their comprehension of the exact events that lead up to the crash. Perhaps one of the drivers did see movement near the intersection. This unidentified movement momentarily distracted the driver’s eye from the oncoming traffic. Maybe one or both of the drivers’ attention was frayed by a child in the back seat Their perspective is their truth, their reality, and by exploring all the five perspectives we arrive at a context for the accident, or the circumstances that are relevant.
It seems that effective communication requires all parties to recognize that there is more than one truth. One person’s reality may seem to be a crumpled version of the other person’s truth…but each individual owns his perspective, owns her truth. You need not believe that I am correct to believe that I speak truthfully.
Okay, that’s not so hard. I understand perspective and context. But, how in the world did someone just push my button once again, turning me into a defensive snapping turtle?
There’s more more to explore. Tell me of your experiences with difficult communication.
Why are human interrelationships so difficult? We all have a friend, neighbor, colleague, or relative with whom meaningful communication seems impossible. Many people are more comfortable and better equipped to communicate with their pets than with family members. Sometimes it is as difficult to articulate a thought with a family member as it would be to articulate that same thought with a stranger in a foreign language. Is there an anthropological explanation for this phenomenon or is it a cultural failure? Are we doomed to wallow in misunderstanding and recriminations?
Popular culture would divide us into men and women with cheerleaders on each side ranting about what is wrong with the other side’s communication skills. But that does not explain why women also have difficulty talking with other women and men have trouble talking with other men. This problem goes beyond the sex of the speaker.
Dr. Heidi Reeder, internationally recognized expert on human communication, and associate communications professor at Boise State University, explains that first we need to understand the difference between sex and gender.
• Gender involves the psychological and societal constructs that define male and female roles.
• Sex refers to specific physical aspects of being male or female.
Once we understand this distinction we can see that it is actually gender that drives communication. Gender is not an either/or. Gender is a sliding scale with individuals exhibiting a mixture of psycho/socio roles. Thus, communication depends upon context. We need to consider the social and cultural relationships that mold the way we talk with each other.
• Is there a familial relationship?
• Is there a power imbalance?
• Are there cultural constraints?
• Are there religious constraints?
• Is there an age difference?
• Is there a family history of specific communication styles or patterns?
Personally, I believe that last item may actually be the most critical and the most difficult to understand and manage. We learn social roles and communication patterns from observing our elders. It is these deeply ingrained automatic reactions that seem most troubling. These are the infamous “buttons.”
We all know someone who interrupts, or who so kindly finishes the other person’s sentence for them. Or how about the person who gazes into the distance and abruptly changes the subject? Some speakers seem bent on demonstrating how much they know, while others seem content to ask questions. Some people blur sentences into long rapid-fire paragraphs cutting off input from their listeners. Others speak painfully slowly or quietly. I believe each of these modes of communication has been learned either from an early parental pattern or for survival in early childhood relationships.
We may refine our initial communication styles based on the cultural expectations.But it is those initially imbedded, often unconscious communication styles that pop up repeatedly. They are the “button pushers” that bedevil us. They are as difficult to change from within as they are to cope with as a recipient.
So, are we doomed to miss our cues, to inadvertently push one another’s buttons? I may revisit this topic, meanwhile, maybe you, wise readers, may have some thoughts?