On Being One … And Our Everyday Failings

Today, I’d like to share what I hope will make you laugh. It’s a story of (mis)communication between my mother and I!

Even those of us who know that men and women are genetically programmed to (mis)communicate, can and do (mis)communicate. The difference may be that we recognize our (mis)communication, remember our genetic programming, and can quickly (hopefully) correct it.

So, let me give you a bit of background first so you can understand this story. For most of my life, my parents and I had little communication, and most of the little communication we had was misunderstood (i.e., we (mis)communicated). My parents live in Spain, where my father is a small-acreage farmer. I moved out when I was 20 after graduating from university. Since then, I’ve lived in many continents, countries and cities. No matter where I was, I usually called “home” every Sunday. The conversations were short. “Hi. How are you?”. “The weather is fine.” “Talk to you next week.” Those were the most common sentences uttered on our Sunday morning less than 2-minute “conversations”. Even when I went “home” for a bi-annual visit, conversation was restricted to a few sentences a day. Those who know me may be surprised by this since they know how much I like to speak (though I’ve learned to use my ears and mouth in their respective proportions). After all, my love of the spoken word is one reason I became a litigator.

It is only very recently that my mom (yes, she is now mom, not mother) and I have begun true dialogues. We’ve begun to share our lives, our pasts, our fears, our joys, and our dreams. It is a wonderful gift that I have received and been given as my parents begin their journey to the other world. I now look forward to speaking to my mom and call her 2-3 times a week, even if only to say “hi!”.

A little more background. My mom is a product of the Spanish Civil War and World War II. While she was born in a family of means, through a set of circumstances related to those two events, she grew up very poor and sometimes hungry. She never received the opportunity to go to school and has taught herself to read and write. Like many people of her generation, while she is not a Ludite, she is not technology-savvy. She often confuses fax and email, and has never used, never mind owned, a computer (my offers to buy one and teach my parents how to use it have been constantly rebuffed). She doesn’t quite understand Skype and only recently purchased a cell phone.

So, with this background in mind, on this particular day I called my mom just to say “hi” and chat about nothing in particular. Our conversation digressed to the subject of a cousin, Reme, and her significant issue with food and subsequent health problems due to her obesity. You should know that, for as long as I can remember, everyone referred to Reme as the Fatty (“la Gordita”). In fact, a few months ago, while on the phone with me, my mom refer to her as the Fatty. I gently, or as gently as I could, asked my mom to stop calling her that. I reminded my mom that she had a name and that calling her the Fatty was not doing Reme’s self-esteem any good. In fact, I noted, it was probably one of many reasons why she was obese. Much to my delight, it appears that, not only is my mom now calling her Reme, but my mom was able to get the rest of the family to call her Reme!

A few days later, my mom and I had a discussion about spirituality. The issue of Reme’s weight and ancillary health issues came up. My mom mentioned that she, and Reme’s family, had been nagging Reme about her weight. They had been telling her that she needed more will power to eat less and better. Reme’s reaction to this nagging was telling about her state of mind. She reportedly said: “But I love food so much!” To me, it confirmed (if I needed any confirmation) that her issue was one of a deep lack of self-esteem, self-worth and self-love (they’re all the same). As the “ugly duckling” of the family (her sister, Marina, is attractive and more vivacious and, thus, received more attention as they grew up). She considers her life to have been one miserable failure after another. She feels deeply that she never received the love she deserved, whether from her husband in her loveless marriage, from her mother, or from her friends. Her refuge is food, mostly large quantities of sugar and bread. From an Earthly perspective, this also provides her with a physical barrier with the outside world. I mentioned all of this to my mother and she suggested that I speak to Reme, which I agreed to do.

So, now for the (mis)communication (finally, right?). During our call, my mother said that she was going to give me Reme’s email address. She would spell it out for me. We started with the first letter, which I understood to be an “r”. In order to confirm what I had heard, I said: “r as in Rome?”
Mom: “No, not like Rome! It’s an r.”
Me: “Mom, I’m hearing an r as in Rome.”
Mom: “No, not like Rome! it’s an r.”
Me (with a giggle): “Mom, seriously you’re saying r as in Rome.”
Mom: “No, not like Rome. OK, you know my last name is Guerrero, right?”
Me: “Yeah.”
Mom: “OK, so you take one r out of the two rs and what’s left over is the first letter of Reme’s email.”
Me (now laughing): “Mom, that’s an r like in Rome. OK, I know, not like Rome. OK, how about r as in dad’s last name Ruiz?”
Mom (also now laughing): “No, not like Ruiz!”

OK, this went on for another 10 minutes interspersed with bouts of giggles and laughs as we marveled at our mutual inability to understand the first letter of Reme’s email. And, then, it dawned on me.

Me: “Mom, is it a small r instead of a capital R?”
Mom: “Yes, that’s it!!!”

My non-technology savvy mother did not understand that, in an email, whether the letter is capitalized or not is irrelevant. How could she? She has never used email, or a computer for that matter. Despite my knowledge, I had failed to properly assess my audience and this led to great confusion.

You probably had to be there to understand the hilarity of the situation. I know everyone I’ve told the story to found it funny. It is probably true that this more of a telling story, rather than a written story. This, in itself, educates us about the differences in choosing the medium to communicate. And, it tells tons about the problem with email and texting, neither of which carry emotion regardless of how many emoticons one uses. But, the point of the story is that, even when we are in situations where understanding our communication (i.e., what each one of us is saying) would appear to be automatic, it is almost never so. This is why I frequently say: “What I say is often not what you hear.” This is also why I often remark that knowledge without implementation is wasted.

Like I remarked to my mom, it’s a good thing we weren’t part of a United Nations’ negotiating team or our two countries would probably be at war by now.

Here’s hoping you pick your communication medium wisely, that you remember to understand your audience and adapt your communication to him/her/them and that your day is filled with laughter and dance.

As always in Love, Jean-Pierre

You can now follow me on HeartWhisper

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