“Killing a rat that is holed up inside an earthen pot requires wisdom.” – Nigerian proverb
Communicating can be quite challenging on its own. We all struggle to get the right meaning with our words. The challenge is we often become frustrated when our words are either twisted out of context or explained in ways that sound more intelligent or senseless than those spoken.
Sadly, many of us continue to cultivate a habit of misinterpreting what others say. It is happening because we are not fact-checking or thinking critically. This attitude could result in a dangerous trend that blinds us to the basic freedom of expression. We are quick to latch onto our right to express our views to criticise persons and ideals we do not agree with. And, very often, we are selective in the areas where we punch our imaginary opponents.
This is the trend that has conveniently aligned itself with media-spin, and is even picking up steam as the currency of tabloidism. With creative selectiveness, we are able to dazzle the unfortunate majority of the populace with ‘our interpretations’ of what was said and influence them to accept our truths. And since critical analysis and fact-checking slows the pace of news, so many individuals and institutions would rather the risk of being the first to hear and pass it on than it being right. This is made worse with the share-advocacy of social media, whereby we are encouraged to pass on whatever information we are reading. And because we receive such news or information from people we trust, we are also quick to pass it on without checking its authenticity.
Peering into the deeper implications of the misinterpretations around us, one could suggest that our increase in knowledge demands that individuals should ensure they have clearly thought through their words and work before they become public. It recommends a kind of perfection wherein our ways should be holistic enough to explain in the manner we convey them.
That way, no person could misinterpret what we say or do. However, the speed of change and the competitiveness it brings make it practically impossible to have the time and energy to ensure what is being said means what it should. Yes, we need to move far and we need to move fast, that is why we are working in teams and in clans. But to demand perfection is a requirement that puts individuals into very reactive positions. They become too careful, and over the long run their creativity levels will diminish.
Long, long ago, when our society was not bedevilled by instant-gratification and irrational pragmatism as it is today, the general rule was to assume that individuals were filled with a basic human goodness, as an existential vitality, even if the world around us was littered with evil. It allowed for a certain amount of caution in our interpretation of words and work. Sadly, the fact that the world today throws any caution to the winds suggests we no longer cherish that tenet. There could be many ‘justifiable’ reasons for its unpopularity now, but what was required for that concept to thrive was tolerance; an attribute which the greater number of our modern populace lacks.
Commonsense tells us that when society becomes more pressed for time, and the general populace do less critical thinking, there is an increased probability we will misinterpret many words and works. This is a social reality we cannot control. The sadder part is that many have latched onto this flaw and are exploiting society with it. But we need to understand that when we deliberately strive to mislead people, we are consciously destroying society and ourselves.
For just as ‘when the last tree dies, the last man will die’, so also will the last man die when the last truth is destroyed. We need to understand that no amount of rushing and pushing people to be their very best can prevent them from making mistakes. In fact, the more we demand the best of people the greater the mistakes they make. It is the asking price of creativity.
We have to understand that we will never see ‘misinterpretation’ walking the streets announcing itself: “Hi, I’m an evil tenet; do not tread my path”. Like gossip, it gives us little pleasures with its tastiness – but the damage it does to ourselves and our society is irreparable. That’s why it’s about time we started a culture of minimising misinterpretations. That would be the best service we could do for our generation and for posterity. It is, in fact, far better than even establishing new truths or inventing new technologies. There is an urgent need to imbibe the fact-checking attitude into ourselves so that we can pass it on to our children.
Every time we advance a misinterpretation, we are actually murdering proper and logical interpretation and holding a funeral for truth. In fact, the more carelessly we consume any information, the greater the damage we do to our thinking faculties and our fact-checking capacities. Imagine how stupid you will look on an evening out, when after sharing a piece of information you have read you are corrected about its untruthfulness. Not only will it reduce your worth in the eyes of your colleagues and acquaintances, but they will take everything else you say with a ‘pinch of salt’. Like our fathers always say, “the wise are spoken to through proverbs”.
Kodwo Brumpon is a management consultant and a life coach who inspires individuals, groups and corporate bodies to think and feel that which is true, and helps them to positively respond to that which is beautiful while nudging them to let goodness govern their actions. Comments, suggestions and requests should be sent to him at [email protected]