The Word Is Not The Meaning

“We interpret words to mean something that will be convenient or suitable to us, or interpret them according to a certain tradition.”

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Imagine you are thirsty and asked your Mother for some water. Now instead of handing you a glass of water, you get a lecture on what the chemical composition of water is, the different types of water (say mineral or spring) and how it takes various forms like steam or ice for half an hour instead of the drink. Merely understanding the term “water” is not going to satiate your thirst.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, words are the worst form of communication till we have tried all others. As we explore in “Whose Reality Is It Anyway?”, we all see life from a different perspective and add meaning or draw inference from events differently. A good event for one could be a bad event for another.

Now let us try a thought experiment to understand this better:

What colors are the boxes below?

You’d say that the boxes are orange and pink respectively.

Now imagine that a child is thought that the color on the left is pink and the color on the right is called orange. As he grows up, he remains unaware of this till one fine day, the teacher asks him to name the colors. The child gets it “wrong”. He is regurgitating what is taught to him and it turns out that what is thought to him is “inaccurate”.

Now you can imagine what the child goes through in this situation here. I am guessing bewilderment, and perhaps anger and mistrust at his parents.

The point is that even for some of the most widely used words, each one of us may hold different meanings of the same word. Add to this the complexities in understanding tonality, body language and the evolution of language itself where some words disappear from common use and some words find their way into daily use.

Now imagine someone who thinks in a different language altogether. The ideas may be lost in translation as a complete transfer of meaning is difficult between two languages.

So the next time when you speak or write something, you might want to make it as lucid as possible and define every term as clearly as possible. This may help you and your associates to communicate well.

And when it comes to reading or listening, practise dropping all your preconceptions and you can discover the very essence the writer or speaker is conveying.

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