books,  communication,  meaning of life,  religion

Challenges of Communication

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Many Moons is a children’s story by James Thurber. Princess Lenora is sick and only being granted her wish will cure her. What does she wish for? The moon! Advisor after advisor described how much they have already accomplished for the king and why they can’t get the moon for him. Only the jester has the answer; noting that each advisor describes a different moon he suggests that they ask Princess Lenora what she thinks the moon is. Her moon is neither rock nor green cheese. It is golden, about the size of her fingernail, fairly easy for them to procure for her but will she mind that the other moon continues to rise into the sky?

Leaving aside the challenge of why exactly getting what she wants is necessary to be cured, the story is a very wonderful story. It has the familiar feel of a fairy-tale with just the right amount of repetition. After reading it I wanted to talk with the children about some item in their own life where different people would have different ideas about the same thing. I had to rack my brain a bit before I could figure out what would be an appropriate example. The first examples that occurred to me didn’t really seem like fitting ones for children.

I thought about how different people talk about Christianity different ways. I’ve always  known that different variations on Christianity, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t. I mean, I used to be amazed at how some people are incredibly hostile to Christianity. I would think, okay, I understand not believing in Christianity, but why be hostile? Then I started realizing that the Christianity that they were talking about wasn’t anything I was familiar with and wow… I don’t blame them in the slightest. It still amazes me to learn how different they are. I visit webpages like No Longer Quivering periodically just to read the descriptions of how different Christianity is for some. Totally different moons.

Then there are the police. Some people talk as though the police were awful evil people out there enjoying a powerhigh all day. Other people talk as though the police are a mixed bag with some people who abuse their power and some who are good caring people. Others idealize the police. Different moons.

Or attachment parenting? Helicopter parenting? Being neglectful? All three of those terms could be applied to the same person, by different people and I have often noticed that when two people are talking about being more something – more loving perhaps, or more structured in their homeschooling, or more anything really – the two people might be interpreting each other tremendously differently. I can draw a diagram to explain what I mean.

People can be talking about the same thing but believing the other person is talking about something different, or they can be talking about different things but using the same word. Either way there’s miscommunication, and I think that’s part of why I have such a hard time accepting the existence of multiple moons. I want to be able to talk to and communicate with many different people and the vagueness of our language bothers me. I want to be able to act in different situations and interact with people outside of my own cultural background, so it matters to me why they think different things. It isn’t about wanting everyone to believe the same thing, it is about wanting to know what others are talking about when they say they want the moon or they are scared of such-and-such.

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One Comment

  • Renee C.

    Great article Christy! I think the book you describe provides a great analogy to all of these differences in perception. I also am taken aback about people’s hostilities toward something or someone that is different from themselves. So many arguments are based on trying to be right instead of trying to understand the other person’s position. And, I think this applies to discussions about religion, culture, parenting, even in communication between spouses. We so want to be right! I really enjoyed reading your article! 🙂

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