What we are speaking into?

Contemplate some of your speech acts from when you were young, say 10-20 years old.

Many of the ones you remember you probably would not say again if you could go back to that time. The core reason is now that you are older you realize that your understanding of what you were speaking into is different today than your understanding at the time you spoke.

When you were fifteen, your limited understanding of speech and its effects may have led you to slant your words in ways that were likely to be misunderstood. For example, you may have made a clumsy bid for sympathy by complaining about someone with words that were too strong, producing a counter-effect to what you wanted. Or you may have self-deprecated too much, thus leading an important adult to misunderstand your real abilities.

Another way to see this is consider the times you did not say anything, believing that your silence would be understood. You might have said nothing when wronged because you imagined the person who harmed you would see their mistake on their own though they did not. Or you might have said nothing when you thought you deserved something because you believed the other person would see it on their own though they did not.

Now that you are older you probably know that you have to be more careful with what you say; sometimes you need to be more explicit and other times it’s best to say as little as possible. How will you feel about your speech today ten years from now?

The same sorts of questions can be asked and valuably considered about how we listen and have listened to others. Problems with speaking and listening are constant and lifelong and will never go away if only because of time constraints, though there are scores of other reasons why people misunderstand each other.

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