Communications Breakdown

Do you choose your words with precision, or do you speak well?

Forgive the reference to a pulsating nuke from one of the world’s most significant and influential rock bands. I bought Led Zeppelin’s debut album in 1969 upon the advice of my 8th grade algebra teacher. It was a vinyl, 33 rpm record.

For those who haven’t lived thru the evolution of recorded music from records to CDs to digital, we started out, more or less, with 78 rpm (revolutions per minute) records, that were hard plastic platters that spun VERY FAST, had poor audio quality, and if dropped would break. Next came 45 rpm records or simply “45s”. These spun slower, had better fidelity, but only had capacity for two songs – the “A” side and, when you flipped it over, the “B” side. Along with 45s came the beginning of the “hit records” or “singles” or “A sides”. Finally arrived the wonderful 33 rpm, or vinyl record “album”; great sound and capacity to hold around ten songs, five on side 1 and five on side 2. Plus, albums had their covers; often conveying great photos, art work and narratives that humanized the band and the music, so much so that buying a new album was often cause to gather with friends, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and LISTEN.

This morning at the kitchen table as I ate breakfast with my youngest daughter prior to her leaving for work, a thought occurred to me. I was about to tell her, “You look nice today”, but instead I said, “You look well coutured and well accessorized today.” To which she looked at me suspiciously and carefully and slowly uttered, “ooooo kkkkkk…”  On a side note, yes, it is very bizarre having me as a parent, haha.

My point is… I was trying to be a 33rpm. It seems obvious to me that we as a society have a systemic “failure to communicate”. Topping the many reasons for this is our perceived lack of time and our chronic obsessing with “what comes next” versus what’s happening right now in this very moment.

How often have we started a conversation with a hastily and inaccurately constructed thought only to hear the reply “What do you mean?” At which point, we now have to back-peddle while feeling “put on the spot” to reiterate quickly, because we are anxious that the person we are addressing is a 78rpm and will soon starting tapping their fingers with impatience. In the end, if we are extremely lucky, our original message is finally conveyed, but usually we settle for hopefully getting the essence across. After which, we’re already thinking about what we’re going to say next, so at best we are giving the speaker 50% or our attention as he is replying in his own sloppy, inaccurate manner.

My gosh! Makes we wonder how we as a society did not self-destruct decades ago. Now, let’s exacerbate the situation exponentially. Vague messages, outright lies, inaccuracies are sent out to hundreds, thousands, even millions at the touch of a computer key, leaving a million people asking “What do you mean?” without any hope of receiving a reply.

Homies, we can’t control the receiver of our communications, but whether we are a 78rpm or a 45 or a 33, that’s on us. Feeling like we are so time-starved that we can only speak in overly-generalized sound-bites, that’s on us too. In the end, miss-communicating will cost us MORE time than if we slowed down a bit, became mindful of the moment and our audience, and chose our words with precision. We don’t have to use big words; in fact it’s better that we don’t. We don’t have to fear coming across as nerd-like; in fact if we did, it would probably relax the receiver of our message and help him or her to digest it in the way we intended. We don’t have to presume our listener is close-minded or open-minded; that’s on them, not us.

Politicians today by choice, design, or necessity, are 45rpms. This is very concerning. I will guess that over 50% of the eligible voters in America do not fully understand what a caucus is or what socialism is or what each of our current presidential candidates really represents because none of them (the candidates) are communicating precisely!!!

I’ve racked my brain black-and-blue repeatedly attempting to apply my problem-solving skills to what’s wrong in our existence today, and in the end, all I have to show for it is a bruised brain and a simple conclusion. We CAN change the world, but it starts with us. In my case, it starts with me. I see several behaviors, beliefs and cultural biases of which, if each of us individually became more conscious and self-correcting, we would like a cultural contagion “rub off” on others and actually begin to change our society and our world. It’s called leading by example, and it begins with you.

For me, I’ve already begun with simple self-reminders. In this case, “choose words precisely”. Rather than speaking well, I’ll take the time to try to communicate better. I choose to be a 33rpm, and that is my contribution for today toward changing the world. Peace, love, dove homies.