One recent rush hour, I was riding the motorcycle east on Division Street, trying to make a left on Ashland. I had my turn signal on, waiting for a woman to come through the green light before I turned. But she stopped, instead.
So I started to turn in front of her.
And then she went.
And I stopped, and gave her an exasperated look that might have escalated to this sort of thing, which I once yelled at a douchy hipster pedestrian, in exactly this manner:
But spiritual communication leaders aren’t supposed to act like that! Not even supposed to think like that!
So when the woman mouthed a sheepish “sorry” as she went by, I thought to glance over my shoulder to the west, to see what she’d been seeing. Which was a setting sun, and a traffic light totally unseeable in the impossible glare. No wonder she had stopped. She’d had no choice!
I’d made an effort to see the world as she’d seen it, and I’d understood. It’s not always that simple, to see the world as another person sees it. But without a communicator’s mind, it’s impossible.
In my book An Effort to Understand, I tell a story my ad man dad loved to tell, and my novelist mother loved to hear:
One morning on vacation in Florida, my dad stood on the hotel balcony, gazing at the ocean.
He spotted a young boy, walking down the beach alone.
Below my dad on another balcony, another unseen boy called out to the boy on the beach.
The boy on the beach looked over briefly, but kept walking.
“Jake!” the boy below repeated.
But the boy kept walking.
“Jake! Jake! Jake!” the boy below cried.
Finally the boy on the beach stopped, turned squarely toward the hotel, reared back and yelled, “Can’t you see, I’m some other kid?!”
I’m some other kid! I can still hear my dad repeating the line at the top of his lungs, over my mother’s roaring laughter.
Trying to see the world—and yourself—as other people do: That’s what communicators do. Or try to do.
And if they want to stop doing that, it’s okay. (I’ve always thought “lifelong learning” sounded a bit oppressive myself.)
But they can’t call themselves communicators, anymore.