Being Understood Requires Context…

(cc) Photo by Harold Neal

Seth Godin asked this morning

If you want to drive yourself crazy, read the live twitter comments of an audience after you give a talk, even if it’s just to ten people.

You didn’t say what they said you said.

You didn’t mean what they said you meant.

He follows this with two paragraphs saying, basically, that humans are not so good a communicating understanding — that human language is less than perfectly clear, no matter “…your affect, your style and your confidence…”

I would suggest that a big part of the misunderstanding, that I agree we should expect, is about perspective. The words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that we hear or read are all colored by our own frames of reference. It is why context is such a critical part of speaking and teaching. Our words must not merely tell our audience or class what to believe, but also create the common perspective that makes that belief discoverable and valuable.

This is what frustrates me about teachers and public speakers who simply get up and tell us their facts and opinions — even with the most interesting personalities and greatest passion. Ideas must carry with them a compelling context that the listener or reader can’t help but adopt. There has to be a story.

This, I think, is why I was so warmed by the great compliment paid to me by Josh Alen, when he tweeted,

Was watching @dwarlick’s #k12online closing keynote. Thought he was losing me during garden example then *bam* it all made sense. Wow. ((Alen, Josh. “Was Watching….” Josh Allen’s Twitter Feed. 3 Dec 2010. Web. 10 Dec 2010. .))

The best way, I believe, to create these sorts of learning pyrotechnics, the BAM of understanding, is with stories.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.