Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Misunderstanding of Not Listening

I tell people that I speak fluent Spanish. When I say this, I mean that I can be dropped in any Spanish-speaking country and be able to find food, shelter, beer and bathrooms, barring a cultural misunderstanding. I can converse about the weather, politics, people, my life, other peoples’ lives, food, drink, and if you’re really lucky, I might even let you talk too. Being fluent, however, does not mean that I know all the words for everything.
If you think about it, this is obvious. When you take a class in just about anything, the first thing you have to learn is the subject’s vocabulary. For example, I know plenty of useless words about Latin American Literature due to the many, many classes I have taken on the subject. One thing I don’t know about, however – in English or Spanish – is cars.
Yesterday I took the truck I’m driving in to get a short circuit fixed. The turn signals weren’t working, and the gas gauge wasn’t reading how much gas was in the tank. Phil, a friend of the people who I’m house- and dog-sitting for, took me to the dusty little lot where a good car electrician worked. We explained to them that we’d already replaced the fuse multiple times and that it blew almost immediately after each time it was replaced. They told me to come back in two hours, and I did. They showed me that the turn signals worked and added that the “floater” (the sensor that reads how much gas is in the tank) in the gas tank didn’t work anymore. I used the blinkers, saw that they worked, paid them, backed out of the lot and didn’t make it around the block before the fuse blew again. I went back, told them nothing was working, they messed around with the fuses some more, let me leave and I made it to the end of the street before turning around.
Each time, they told me that the gas gauge wouldn’t work. Each time, I assumed they were wrong because it had worked before. Finally, they told me to come back later in the afternoon, so they could dig in and figure out why the fuse continued to blow. When I came back with Phil, who knows a lot more than I do about cars, I finally got that the reason the gas gauge wasn’t going to work was because the short was in the sensor, and they had disconnected it so the turn signals would work. Basically, the sensor had to be replaced.
Now, like I said, I speak fluent Spanish. Even with not knowing anything about cars, I should have been able to understand that they had disconnected the sensor earlier, because they kept telling me that they had. The problem was that I wasn’t hearing them – that what they were telling me had nothing to do with what I wanted to hear.
This wasn’t a language barrier. It was a barrier that came from ignorance on my part and from not being able to put what they were saying in context, because I wasn’t listening. It got me to thinking: how often do I really listen? What else have people been trying to tell me that I haven’t been able to hear? How much am I missing because I’m too stuck in my own view of how it works?
I can usually remember when I’m on the other side of this problem; when someone, it seems, is purposely misunderstanding me. Obviously it’s much more difficult to be able to see your own blindness with the same clarity. I can’t take back what I’ve been unable to see in the past, but I can try to see from now on with new eyes, eyes that connect to a mind that is not shielding itself from reality because it doesn’t fit into my own personal view. I’m not sure why it ever became this way, nor am I foolish enough to think that I’m the only one it happens to. None of that really matters, however. What does matter is the ability to make a personal choice to take off the blinders and try walking without them. Maybe I’ll be able to become fluent with other people in the process.

Love and misunderstood kisses

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