Sunday, July 24, 2005

Public imprecision

I've been thinking about public thoughts lately, what people "say" for anyone else to hear, and why they say it. Two things I saw on the way to the theatre made me think of this.

The first was a fellow on a recumbent bike with a yellow and black sign on it that said something about not supporting the war for oil and how riding the bike instead of driving was better. I paraphrase since I went by him and could not really read the fine print from three lanes away.

Immediately I wondered, was he talking to me, driving my Chevrolet Suburban. Did he intend for me to stop supporting The War or to drive less, or to get a bike and ride like him? Or did he just want others to know how he felt about it, without really wanting to change anyone's mind. Somehow I think it was the former, not the latter.

Then I saw the roadside memorial that I have been passing for days. There are some flowers, papers, gaudy crosses, an American flag, another larger black and gold flag with some unknown symbol on it. There were some balloons a few days ago, but they're gone now.

What happened here? I suppose someone died, but I wonder who, how, and why. Was it a traffic accident, a shooting? What does the black flag mean? I don't really know what the people who made the memorial are trying to say. Perhaps just that their loved one is gone and that they are sad? There must be something more. When my dad died, we didn't put a sign and balloon on his house. Did they even want me, or anyone, to take notice.

Things people say in public are often misunderstood. We get so many messages inbound and we are so imaginative that only the most precise messages have some meaning, and even then we still get them wrong.

The truth is (caution, presumptious conclusion follows) that our thoughts are so complex that even when we try to capture them completely we fail because our communication facilities are just so limited that we cannot ever fully express our thoughts. If you are successful at getting other people to really understand your thoughts like you do you are a rare individual indeed.

No comments: