Thursday, May 20, 2010


Now I'm feeling all bloggy, so I'm writing again. I feel compelled by two recent events to think through some things.

First off, an old friend from high school mentioned my rather cynical Valentine's Day entry, both to confirm my feelings and provide me with some new perspectives to think through. I really appreciated the response, and it has helped as I've mulled it over. I'm feeling a little less cynical.

Then, around the same exact time he was writing, I was hanging out with some friends--the twins' mom and dad, actually! Yay, twins! Anyway. We were talking about my lack of serious dating potential in the area, and I was set to be all jaded as usual, and then my friend said something nice. She told me that she had hope for me and what lays ahead. It made me feel good.

It took a few days for those two events to collide, but they've just done so as I've partially drifted off to sleep and back into wakefulness. In my jaded Valentine's Day post, I said how I hated when people tell me to be patient or that "it will happen" because it sounds so condescending to me. Yet, when my friend told me she had hope for me, I felt really good. I got to wondering what the big difference is between those statements that would lead to such different emotional responses on my part.

It is this:

The former statements feel condescending because they sound like the kind of thing you would tell a kid who wants a new toy. "Just ask Santa and you'll get it!!" We always say stuff like that to kids, along with telling them to ask God, or to be patient, or whatever. I interpret all these things in the same way.

The latter is not condescending because it sounds like the speaker's own personal feelings of hope and positivity on my behalf. It's not a pat on the head but a statement of personal conviction or positive energy toward how the speaker sees my fate. I interpret that as similar to a more adult compliment or statement of faith in me as a person who is capable of great things...and deserving of having great things happen to me.

I teach my students about how communication is part intention and part interpretation. I argue that interpretation is more than half of meaning making in interpersonal interaction. It's the primary force, actually, at least in my opinion. So while the intention of speakers in both these categories of statements are the same ("Chin up, Dena! Great things may be in store for you!"), their interpretation by me--and hence their practical meaning--is radically different. One instills a sense of camaraderie, the other a sense of superiority/inferiority.

So if you're looking to cheer up a single friend (or anyone about anything!), think through the interpretations of your words. What might you say to help them persevere? Try expressing your own personal hope for their future.

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