What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Romeo and Juliet
One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to share a meal with an old friend or new acquaintance at least twice each week. After almost 6 months, I’m right on track in keeping up with this resolution.
In order to help facilitate a lively conversation, I will invariably ask my guest to answer a simple question, "Who is the smartest person that you personally know?"
Thus far, 100% of the people I’ve asked this question to respond in the exact same manner...
"What do you mean by ’smart’?"
Most of the time I answer their question in vague terms...
"I really don’t have any hard definition of "smart"... I just want to know who you think is the smartest person... and why you think this"...
Typically only after some back and forth negotiation regarding the term "smart" do I actually get an answer.
Once they’ve presented me with a name... I then ask a follow-up question, "So... what is it that makes you believe that this person is smart?"
Many times, I am told this person is someone who holds advanced degrees or someone who has amassed a lot of money or someone who can think laterally solving very complex problems.
The more that they describe the attributes of this person... the more they begin to question their original choice...
They begin to have a conversation with themselves... and often, they will want to switch their selection to another person.
In this little experiment, I truly couldn’t care less whom they actually finally choose... but rather I enjoy watching the selection process unfold...
For some unknown reason, people think that this simple question is a riddle with some sort of trick answer... but it really isn’t anything of that ilk.
My interest solely lies in how they attempt to define the term "smart". It’s a term that means one thing to one person and something completely else to another.
The definition of "smart" is based on our individual perceptions, experiences, and biases.
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In 1964, comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested and prosecuted in New York for using obscenities, particularly the "f-word", on-stage during his act.
His defense was that the word was simply just a one-syllable sound and that it was up to the individual person to place a certain connotation and context on the word.
To one person the word meant something beautiful while to another person it meant something vulgar.
Unfortunately, Lenny Bruce’s defense didn’t hold water with the jury and he was convicted and sentenced.
Bruce appealed the conviction but died from a drug overdose before his appeal could be heard.
In 2003, some 39 years later after his conviction, Bruce was the first person ever in New York history, to be posthumously pardoned by then governor George Pataki.
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In China, there are approximately 10 different languages spoken, with hundreds of different dialects and variation within each distinct language.
With so many different languages and dialects, how does this country of 1.3 billion people actually communicate with each other?
As it turns out, China (as well as many other Asian countries) uses a written language consisting of complex characters called logograms.
Regardless of the language (within China), the same characters are consistently used to depict the thing or describe the action. Therefore, despite the difference in what people call the symbols, the meaning is the same regardless.
For example, in Mandarin (the official governmental language), the words for "thank you" are xie xie (pronounced shay-shay) while in the southern province of Canton (including Hong Kong), "thank you" is pronounced "doh je" (pronounced dough-jay).
What is really interesting is that the characters for "thank you" in Chinese are almost identical whether you are writing in Mandarin, Shanghinese, or Cantonese.
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When I say the word "red"... you immediately think of a color that your mind represents as the color red.
We each believe that we are seeing something that looks exactly the same... that is... my red is everyone else’s red...
But what would happen if my version of red is actually everyone else’s blue but forever I have seen it as "red"...
... while my version of blue is actually everyone else’s red?
Would it really matter what color my brain sees since the name of the color is just a label?
How exactly would we know what color you are actually seeing in your brain since the label we assigned to the color is arbitrary.
This phenomenon recently caused a brief internet stir when a picture of a dress went viral.
When asked the question, about 60% of the population saw the
dress as black and blue, while about 30% saw the dress as white and gold... and 10% could actually switch back and forth depending on when they saw the photo.
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So at this point you might be asking yourself why are we talking about language and labels?
Often we use words to describe something that we think means one thing, but that for the listener means something completely different.
People around us each day bandy about terms like poor, educated, pain, greed, success and and leadership.
To one person, those particular terms have certain connotation while to another the words have a different meaning altogether.
We assign labels to emotions or to vague or esoteric terms as though an idea, such as "love", can be accurately described in a word, phrase, or even book.
Some hold the "rich" in contempt... while others depict the "poor" as lazy... but are unable to reconcile the words.
It’s impossible to to accurately assign labels and definitions because everyone has different experiences, biases, education levels, thoughts, and filters.
Even when the concept is highly defined (such as the color of a dress), there is a probability that people just don’t see the same thing.
It has taken me a lifetime to learn how to effectively communicate with just a handful of people who know me extremely well (I think about trying to describe the same thoughts to my parents versus my wife versus my kids... and how the conversation differs).
Effective communication is individual and specific.
It’s vitally important to really listen and ask questions in order to create a complete exchange of ideas with one another.
Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where one of our "core values" is to engage in effective communication... with our vendors, customers, and ourselves.
Jim Kalb President
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Website - www.optifuse.com
Blog - www.optifuse.blogspot.com
Twitter - @OptiFuse