By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette — Communications is the art of helping a listener to see in their mind what it is that the speaker sees in theirs. But what makes for the clearest communications is commonality of experiences. That is in both parties having substantially the same values in life.
But do we have all of these common experiences?
The following three short and humorous stories will indicate that we don’t, so it is important that we ask each other some questions of clarity when we are told things, so that we may more accurately “see” what the other is saying.
Shore Patrol, Philadelphia Pa., 1974: Upon my stunned partner and I parking the Shore Patrol van at our headquarters, we gazed at a thin young sailor sitting on the front steps. He repeatedly sprayed something from an aerosol can into a small paper bag, placed it over his nose and mouth, inhaling and then collapsed the bag over his face. Neither of us had ever seen anything like this.
We approached the sailor and he again repeated his inhalations and grinned into our faces. By then, I had figured out what he was doing. I took his belongings from him, grabbed him up by his skinny arm, and walked him into the office. He floated alongside of me like a helium-filled party balloon.
When we entered, the Shore Patrol Chief sat at his desk, elbows flapping in the air, and nose only inches away from the piles of papers that he was feverishly reading and signing. He was unaware that we had entered the room. I called to him. he stopped what he was doing, gave me a stern and disturbed look, and then asked me, “What do you want, Hamilton?”
“Chief,” I said. “I just caught this guy sniffing PAM on the steps of Shore Patrol.”
Chief gave out a grunt, waved me off, and again dove back into his pile of papers. We stood silently there in front of him, awaiting instructions, as he continued to read and sign.
A minute or two later, as if he had just realized what it was that I had told him, Chief raised his head, contorted his face, looked at me for a moment, and then over at the skinny goofball floating next to me.
My partner and I broke out in laughter when Chief finally barked out his clarifying question. “Pam, who,” he bellowed.
Chief either must have known a woman or two named Pam; or would like to have met one! When I explained to him what the goofball was doing, he told me to just let the sailor go, he not having time to deal with him. So, I did; and he just floated away.
Workplace, Niagara Falls, 2003: It might have been better had she not mentioned the name of the candy, but can you imagine how I laughed when a female coworker told me that her aunt, another coworker, had cracked her tooth while “sucking on a Jolly Rancher”?
Because I knew of the candy, questions of clarity in neither this case nor the following were needed, right?
Coffee shop, Niagara Falls, 2013: Another misunderstanding, although this one being mostly intentional, occurred during a conversation with a woman in a local coffee shop. She was a stranger, but a regular reader of my columns. she was pleased to meet me. As we sat there, drinking our coffee and munching our doughnuts, I noticed a dried coffee ring at the bottom of my near-empty china cup. I laughingly pointed it out to her, telling her of how much we, when I was a young sailor, treasured our ‘salty’ mugs that were completely coated with dried coffee stains. The woman saw the ring, but it reminded her of her recent situation. She said of the dark ring in the porcelain container, “It looks like the ring that I saw in the toilet when I was taking a bath last night.”
While I prefer showers, I have taken baths. Nonetheless, I couldn’t let a straight line like that go un-entertained. So, I asked her, “Why do you take baths in your toilet?”
The woman almost spit her coffee out on me as she enjoyed a huge belly laugh. Of course, we both knew that it was while she sat in the bathtub, she could easily see the ring that is under the lip of the toilet bowl — but we still should ask questions for the purposes of clarity, shouldn’t we?Contact Ken Hamilton at email@example.com.