Some things I have learned #9

Subtitle: Or, at the least, I think I believe

Sub-subtitle: Or, at the most, I believe I know


Each of us, always as a person with decidedly individual histories and memories, thoughts and feelings, perceptions and perspectives, observations and opinions, possesses her/his own language by and through which we both conceive and communicate ideas.

Therefore, no two people, no matter how similar in nature and nurture and no matter how long-lived their relationship, when employing the same words, ever (can) mean precisely the same thing.

And though manifold are the ways that we humans communicate, at some point, we must use words. Therefore, given our native and never-ending individuality, there always are differences among that communication-constellation of what we say (the words we employ), what we mean (the sense and significance, fully known only to ourselves, that we attach to our words), and what is understood (the comprehension of the one[s] to whom we speak).

At the risk of universalizing my experience, oft I wish that all of us remembered this; especially when misunderstandings and disagreements necessarily arise between and among us. For, in remembering, perhaps we might be given to the practice of the greater patience of quieting our own voices to allow for our deeper listening.

© 2020 PRA

3 thoughts on “Some things I have learned #9

  1. So true. We might as well write poetry which may or may not strike a chord because of shared experience. Trying to make language meaningful is why I taught English. Also meaningful
    Words require real understanding of connotation and dennotation.
    Thanks for your essay love, pat Latin


  2. Paul,

    When I first read this yesterday the first thing that popped into my head was a comment a woman made who had come to hear me speak and shared with the group. She shared that before Alzheimer’s came in their lives her mother like Pat Latin, taught english for forty years and had written a “book of words” that was kept on the fridge. The words in the book were never to be used in the family because they could lead to misunderstandings and arguments!! I remember thinking that was at least a proactive strategy to keep misunderstandings to a minimum in a house with 8 kids. Relationships are so hard and are compounded these days by the virtual conversations we have to have that can lead to even more misunderstandings!! I feel at times like putting a list of words of my fridge too of words to avoid using. If I remember correctly one of your words that you say shouldn’t be used in conversation with someone else is “must” in terms of telling them what they must do! Great advice there! “Must” clearly hadn’t worked for everyone when it comes to wearing masks.

    Thanks again for the series!!


  3. “A book of words.” What a brilliant strategy in response to what is unavoidable. We humans, with our words, are subject to make as much misunderstanding as understanding.

    As for the word must, always I add ought and should. These three words, now, for me, for years, I have considered heavily morally-weighted-and-freighted (ethically loaded and laden terms). This is to say, for example, if I were to say to you, “Loretta, you must (or ought or should) do this or that” and you reply, “No, Paul, I mustn’t (or ought not or shouldn’t), then, by virtue of our obvious disagreement, the subtext is that I think you are wrong and you think I am wrong. This is hardly a path toward resolution, much less reconciliation. Nevertheless, in this life and in our relationships, there are times when must, ought, or should are imperative, necessary terms to employ. I have learned that, for myself, to be careful when I use them, especially about or in regard to others. I’m much more adept (and honest) when I direct these terms to myself.



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