My work life is dominated by cross-cultural conversations. Frequently, the person I am talking with speaks multiple languages with English being the second or third on their list. There is a common challenge with each. Even when her/his primary language is English, the words and metaphors used are different from the ones I am familiar with. I often experience two conversations. One is the story in context of what I intend to say. The other is what is heard and understood. Through no fault of either party, the same side of a conversation has several meanings. Responses are heard in context of each, at times funny and more often confusing.
If the goal is to have a conversation, then one can use checkpoints to bring the conversation back on track. By asking for a summary of what one has said, one can measure how much of one’s message has gotten through. There is a problem with this approach. At times, echoes are hard to fit in the conversation. It does not mean they are not a good idea. Rather it implies that everyone is assuming that everyone understands. Asking if they do suggests that something is wrong or that you think they are dense. The dance in knowing when to check and when to go on assuming is not always clear.
The problem is centuries old. Some site examples as “the” answer.
Take Paul when he candidly responded to the stubborn individuals around him. “The Holy Spirit sure knew what he was talking about when he addressed our ancestors through Isaiah the prophet: Go to this people and tell them this: ‘You’re going to listen with your ears, but you won’t hear a word; You’re going to stare with your eyes, but you won’t see a thing.” (Acts 28.26) His response in other situations says that there are alternatives.
I know I want to be blunt. I also know that compassion has equal or even stronger footing. I am trying to make a positive difference or leave the individual behind? My answer shapes my choice.