Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lost In Translation

In the beginning, there was perfection.  Adam and Eve had it, and they just threw it all away. God knew this would happen, but I think He thinks that imperfection is what keeps things interesting. This is not to imply that sin is interesting, but as flawed humans we really keep existence a unique and unpredictable story. Somewhere down the line, we all got dispersed into different lands, speaking different tongues, and believing different truths. Not only were we imperfect, but we were isolated, couldn’t understand one another, and might not want to if we could. Today we are less isolated than any time in recent human history, yet important things still get lost in translation.

Every international traveler understands that communication is one of the key elements to a successful journey. Not only must you say the right words with the proper annunciation, you have to be aware of cultural differences that may impact the meaning of what you say, you have to be mindful of political notions and assumptions, and – perhaps most difficult – you have to understand the answer that comes back to you! I have few memories of early childhood, but I do have a recollection from my first international trip. In Puerto Vallarta, I was about four or five and met a same-aged Mexican boy named Oscar. I spoke no Spanish, and he spoke no English, yet we had the best time running from place to place, just playing by the pool. We just wanted to have fun… and play. We hadn’t yet been corrupted by a world that told us we were different and that the unknown should not be trusted. Three decades later, I visited Haiti by myself, only to be met at the airport by “a one-armed man and a fat man named ‘Big’.” I was pretty terrified, to be honest, until I safely reached my destination. I didn’t speak the language, my knowledge led me to believe I was in a dangerous place, and what I didn’t know was keeping me from enjoying the moment, which was the arrival to a beautiful new country. In contrast, I have since visited countries - notably Colombia, Italy, England, Turkey, and Japan – where I was with people whom I trusted, and the fear of the unknown nearly disappears.

I have probably never been a great on-the-spot communicator. That is probably why I like to write. I talk to people every day for work, and people confuse my need to be accurate with some sort of deception. Honesty comes off as diplomatic, and taking too long to make a decision comes across as concealment. Of course, these people don’t know me, and they don’t trust me. Why should they? Communication is a tricky game. Seeing as how the stated goal of this blog is international tranquility, I suppose the take-away from this is (1) people communicate in different ways and (2) what’s lost in translation – even in the same language – may be due to fear or a lack of trust. What do we do? I guess you just keep trying, and try to keep an open mind and heart… and always get a ride from the airport.

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