Misunderstanding and Meaningful Communication

Misunderstanding is a large category with many tails; what intrigues me are skills for resolution—the transition from a ‘missed’ understanding of each other to a shared understanding happens almost instantly through routine communication skills, and over time through persistent use of collaborative communication skills.

You know how they say what you suck at is what you study?

One of my professors during grad school sneered at the notion of social scientific research being “a program.” He criticized the idea of a thread or theme running among different projects because we live in the so-called ‘postmodern’ era where it seems nothing holds together, everything can be deconstructed, and deliberate manipulation of media has revived extremist white supremacy. How can anyone make a difference in these circumstances? Further to his point, why even try?

The very act of trying to look ahead to discern possibilities and offer warnings is in itself an act of hope. --Octavia Butler

Call it a character flaw or a positive personality trait, I’m stubborn, loyal, and apparently called to the path of transformative social change. Over the years, my attention has fixed upon the role of misunderstanding in communication. Misunderstanding is a large category with many tails; what intrigues me are the skills some people have in resolving misunderstanding—of turning it from a breakdown into an opportunity for deeper connection and new knowledge. The transition from a ‘missed’ understanding of each other to a shared understanding happens almost instantly through routine communication skills, and over time through persistent use of collaborative communication skills.

One of the ‘locations’ where misunderstanding becomes apparent is during community interpreting with members of American Deaf Culture and h/Hearing people who don’t know American Sign Language. This has been my profession for almost 30 years. Another ‘location’ where misunderstandings are frequent, pervasive and painful are in conversations among activists about the subtle ways racism and whiteness continue to play out in our interactions. Writing as a cis white female whose autobiographical path from birth ’til now has flowed with essentially no substantive barriers, I’m especially addressing those people I anticipate reading this who are also white: I  invite you as a critical partner in the “we” that needs to rise up now to address the ‘intersections’ of misunderstanding – in all the locations where it regularly appears and even in the new ones that throw us for a loop.

By addressing peers who share the life condition of embodied-whiteness, I am purposely investing myself in the twinned hope of reparation (for racism) and restoration (of the environment). What I mean by “embodied whiteness” is if your body has the appearance of a light-skinned person of European descent. It isn’t so much that “white” is an identity that you might claim (although some do), it’s more that whiteness is the water of our socialization. This socialization is the problem, because it has enculturated us to certain kinds of normalcy. Getting ‘outside of’ your own normal is the zone of discomfort that all the antiracism facilitators talk about: it is challenging to reach this zone in the first place, and even harder to stay within it once you succeed in arriving.

So, if you’ve read this far, Welcome!  I’d love to know your thoughts and feelings at this point 🙂

Daffodils (yellow) are the first flower of spring (U.S. eastern coast).Further, there’s an event happening this summer that brings together the two key locations of  misunderstanding that I mentioned above: interpreting and antiracism. It is a grassroots effort, which means at the community level, not in academia. You can read more about it at this website. We need $5K in funding to support a Deaf theatre troupe, Visionaries of the Creative Arts (VOCA), to be able to present excerpts from an original play by Michelle Banks, called ISM, and lead a panel discussion. If we’re successful, the excerpts and panel discussion will be published (with translation) on an upcoming dedicated YouTube channel, making it a public resource beyond the special event.

Any amount will help: $5, $20, $100. I believe that your financial support is an action in the real world to strengthen the spirit for change in our society at large.

We also have categories for larger donors if you’re in a position to contribute to the bigger BEACON project, which involves producing a unified, multilingual public education curriculum on the urgent, combined issues of antiracism and environmental recovery. The lessons of misunderstanding encompass struggling together to simultaneously mitigate climate change and restore social equity. Please reach out if you’re connected to any non-profits or other organizations that would like to sponsor a timely unit in mutual public education.

One thought on “Misunderstanding and Meaningful Communication”

  1. This is such exciting work. The interconnections are critical, and it’s wonderful to see such a practical application of expanding communication, especially around antiracism and ASL interpreting. I love the drawing of connections between reparations for racism and restoration for the environment, and I look forward to seeing more about how the interconnections fit with antiracism and ASL interpreting. It’s really exciting to see all of this fitting together in one place.

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