The one thing that we human beings – the so-called ‘social animal’ – rely upon is Communication. Surprisingly, this is the same thing that we seem to be extremely bad at, at least most of us. There is not a single thing that we can say that is not open to misinterpretation.
Take as simple a thing as the routine greeting “Good Morning!” I have had responses ranging from the routine “Good Morning” (or ‘Morning” from the super-bosses!) to the combative “What is so good about this morning?” to the ill-willed “So! You think I will not even know it is morning unless you tell me so?” It seems like this ordinary phrase can mean a pleasantry to some, a statement of incorrect fact to others and an insult to the ultra-sensitive few!
What, then, can be said about the longer sentences? When a husband says, “Today the meal was really delicious” one can imagine reactions ranging from pleasure to “So it was not good all this while?” to “Am I your cook that I should satisfy you?” depending upon whether it is taken as praise or as implied criticism or as a patronizing gesture. The way it is taken seems to have scant little to do with the words that are used.
When you call up a friend and he responds, “I am busy now. Can we talk later?” what do you think? Do you take it literally to mean that he is stuck with something or that he is acting pricey or that he is trying to avoid you? Every communication seems to communicate a lot more than the mere words – because it is interpreted through a prism of past history, the circumstances of the people concerned as well as the expectations that they have of each other.
If from sentences that are, in and of themselves, inoffensive there is so much offense that can be taken, what then can be said of words of criticism? “You do not look good in this hairdo!” is simply an invitation to responses ranging from “If you think I am ugly, why did you marry me?” to “So, you do not love me nowadays” to “Who is that other woman?”
I always wonder why people will do this to themselves. It seems to me that the meaning read into words is invariably the interpretation that causes the most hurt to the person doing the interpretation. It seems to me that people hate the idea of being happy – considering that they invariably seem to bend all their capabilities to find their way to misery!