Monday, October 8, 2007

Did you say there's meat in my mojito?

Nuance is on my mind today. I had brunch with my friend, Dan, over the weekend and I was explaining to him that during dinner with my very sweet and handsome neighbor, I had sometimes had trouble with his accent. He would say a word like "axe" and I thought he was saying the letter "x". He would say phrases like "my brother is in the army" and I would here "my brother's my enemy". The more this happens the more embarrassing it gets.

Dan said he had a similar experience when he first met his friend, Giel, who is from France. Giel would say a phrase like "mojitos are great. They have "meat" in them." And Dan would look at him with a face of confusion. They would go back and forth for a little while until the reverted to spelling out words, or in my case, I would make hand motions to be understood, despite the fact that both people are speaking the same language. And invariably, these conversations end with the person coming out of the fog of confusion saying something like "oh, MINT in the mojitos." We seek to be understood.

I've noticed that this also happens to me lately with emails. I immediately assume all emails are hostile until I see them laden with smiley faces and xo's. I'm exaggerating here (slightly) though I have a really uncanny knack for assuming that anyone emailing me is actually yelling at me. Then I read a "decidedly" mean-spirited email to an unbiased friend, and that friend will say, "um, Christa, I think you're completely making up that tone of voice. It sounds fine to me." And I reply, "oh! Now I see."

I wonder how responsible nuance and mutual misunderstanding are for where our lives end up. Do we infer things that are not there, and in turn walk away from situations that we should have stayed in, or vice versa? How do we clear up this business of nuance? How do we hear what's really there, and really isn't there though it should be?

There's a case to be made for spelling out the world as we see it, and having the humility and grace to accept correction when we misstep. This is hard word, and it takes time and patience, on both sides. I'm making a pact to listen more completely and more openly, and making myself understood in the way I wish to be understood. Again I am reminded that constant, clear communication can make all the difference, or at the very least keep meat out of my mojito.

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