What I Say Is Not What You Hear

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Emerson paraphrases a well-known explanation of why and how we send messages in code and don’t communicate: “What I say is not what you hear, and what you think you heard is not what I meant at all.” Emerson and Sarah almost get into a serious argument about who was listening to what on the radio. How did Emerson finally break the codes they were sending and stop the problem from escalating?

I was working on my computer and Sarah had the radio on in the next room. It was some kind of talk show and just loud enough to derail my train of thought. I yelled to her, “Are you listening to that?” There was no reply.

I yelled again, “Are you listening to that?” Still no answer.

Finally, I yelled louder, “Are you listening to the radio?!”

She yelled back, “I have been trying to listen, but you keep interrupting!”

This created a two-minute exchange that almost turned into a serious argument. It seems Sarah was irritated with me because she hadn’t even noticed the radio—she was busy with something else.

But she thought I had called to her because there was something on this talk show that I really wanted her to hear. Of course, my real intention was that she turn off the radio if she wasn’t really listening to it. So I was irritated with her because she hadn’t understood me.

Finally, it came to me that I hadn’t been very clear about what I had meant, and yelling at her three times wasn’t too loving either. So I apologized.

I cite this little misunderstanding to point out that things like this can escalate, particularly if husband and wife are a bit upset with one another about something that happened the day before (or possibly just a few minutes ago).