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The Importance of Clarification

8 June 2010 Comments

In literary circles, you have to have a theoretical approach to literature. You can’t just say you like a book. You have to interpret it according to _____.

My personal theory can be boiled down to one statement: Communication is impossible, but we do it anyway.

Consider: I say I saw an animal and it scared me.

You think: What animal? A tiger? They have claws and fangs. That’s reasonable. Maybe it was a giraffe. Giraffes are kind of stoned, chilled-out creatures, but you never know. I wonder if I left the gas on at home. I need to remember to pick up my dry cleaning.

And because I can see your eyes glazing over and your attention wandering from the astounding revelation that I was scared, I add: It was a horse.

And you think: Freak.

Actually, you are probably more charitable than I am, and you imagine a Shetland Pony or a giant draft or something plausibly frightening.

There’s a complete lack of communication here. You have no idea what sort of horse scared me, or what the situation was, or why I’m telling you this.

On the other hand, it probably doesn’t matter if you’re picturing a Shetland Pony and I’m referring to a rabid Mustang that attempted to cull my car from the herd. The general idea is there: general type of animal, general emotion.

For the PETA and legal types out there, now would be a good time to mention that this situation is entirely hypothetical and my car was not savaged by a feral horse. A bug did have a particularly violent encounter with my windshield recently, but I have managed to put aside my grief at the world’s loss of such a fine insect and moved on with my life.

The point is that even though we’re imagining two separate scenes that really have very little to do with each other, something has still been communicated. For normal day-to-day stuff, that’s probably ok. If it weren’t, the English vocabulary wouldn’t be full of terms as elucidating as “stuff.”

But sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes, we need to be very, very precise. Otherwise, there can be misunderstandings.

Consider today. I was talking to someone who doesn’t know my history with jumping, and mentioned that my goals were 2nd/3rd level dressage and maybe some low-level eventing.

When I say “low-level eventing,” I mean “a twig on the ground, and you wave at the water as you pass by.”

Later in the conversation, he said something about 3’ jumps.

There is a big difference between a twig on the ground and a 3’ jump. Three feet of height, for one thing.

But while I was contemplating the suicidal nature that would compel someone to jump over a 3’ solid object in a field, the moment to correct the misunderstanding passed.

Fortunately, there was a positive side effect: he didn’t laugh when he said 3’. That sort of confidence is empowering. I can almost envision myself going beyond my definition of low-level eventing and up to the next level: branches, and the horse’s hooves get muddy when you gallop along the edge of the water.

Tagged: Big Cats, Big Cats - Tigers, Communication Difficulties, Giraffes, Horses, Horses - Breeds - Drafts, Horses - Breeds - Mustangs, Horses - Breeds - Shetland Ponies, Insects, Literary Theory

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