There are two things he used to say to me, my mentor: 1) “When we go into the client meeting, there is no light between us.” He would say this while tightly holding up his two first fingers on his left hand. Bone to bone, no separation, two as one….And, 2) “Words have no meaning.” The first one I appreciated. It made me feel, as I sat in the apprentice seat, that I could still be of use, that he respected that contribution. The second, I thought was nuts. With the passing of time, and the collecting of experience, I am now pretty sure he is right on the second one too. Words do appear to have no meaning. Franglais
Forget the complexity of culture and nuance and personality and education and perspective. Just simply look at the words – the basic building blocks of meaning. We miss each other all day long in our own host languages, never mind our guest ones. I see the Uber driver who wants to chat look at me strangely through his rear view mirror. I realize the picture I had in my head of his meaning is not the picture he had in his head of his meaning. I have heard one snippet of one word, and my pattern-recognition-deviced-brain (as all ours are) captured it and felt reassured – “ah, something I recognize. I will use this. I will stop here in my search for understanding.” Ears shut down. Brain relaxes. I surf back into the comfort zone, AND I miss the moment of what he meant. It a little bit breaks my heart – communication being doomed for clarity.
In the late 90s the concept of a global citizen started to get posh in the business circles in which I was running. A different country, city, airline, a different day. We sent each other emails with tips on restaurants and car services. This was back when we weren’t completely flooded by our in-boxes. There was still some novelty to e-info-mail-instant-message. Now it lies heavily (and oppressively even) around our necks: a constant buzzing, a weighted, anticipatory anxious wait: “I want immediate answers.” The gap between stimulus and response unbearably long.
Ironic, as I am pretty sure that this in-between instance is actually meant to be nourishing. This gap, this pause, could be (maybe should be) a moment of reflection, the bridge between me, you, action, reaction, said, shared, spoken, heard, time taken, time spent, perspective; the time between blurting and regretting.
Have you ever been in a meeting when someone cries? It’s never the goal or an expected outcome, but it does happen. It’s a most bizarre, disquieting, interesting, moving, scary, inspiring study of humanity and how we react to other. When I was an apprentice of another kind, learning to be a movement therapist, I was in a studio. Another student (more senior than I) was sitting in the middle of the room, head on knees. I touched his shoulder and said, “Are you okay?” He was angrily irritated with me. I had interrupted him. My gesture came from a desire to help, to connect. But did it? Maybe it came from a desire to escape his intensity. And you see this in meeting rooms all the time, with tears or without. We are trying to protect ourselves from the thing that we may most want, but also feel might consume us right out of ourselves: the other and their overwhelming story of life and emotion, told to us in words that may or may not have meaning we can discern.