I mentioned in the last blog that I’ve been binging on British TV shows recently. The shows have been set in Scotland, in Wales, on a Scottish island, and of course, in England. I have especially enjoyed learning about other cultural practices from these shows, as well as seeing how people live in these parts of the world.
I have had one problem when watching these shows: the accents. The actors often have very pronounced accents and of course, the various parts of the Britain have regional accents and dialects too. I find that it often takes me watching several shows in the same series to finally understand most of what is said. Even then, I often must stop and rewind in order to listen again to the dialog. And sometimes, even after listening several times, I still don’t know all of what was said.
And these good folks are speaking English! They are not speaking French or Mandarin or Swahili or Portuguese. They are speaking English and I still struggle to understand what they are saying.
Many years ago when I was a social worker at The Salvation Army in Columbus, a young fellow from Mississippi came in to ask for a bus ticket home. His accent was so thick—Cagayan perhaps?—that I could barely understand him. He tried to tell me why he was in Columbus and why he wanted to go home. I understood very little of what he said but felt embarrassed about asking him to constantly repeat himself. The accent made it obvious that he was NOT from Columbus, and he simply wanted to go home, which seemed a reasonable request. When I asked him to tell him where he lived in Mississippi, he told me the name of his town—and I could not comprehend what he said. After he repeated it several times, I finally asked him to write down the name of his hometown. That’s when I discovered that he was illiterate and couldn’t even write his own name. It was frustrating for both of us. We finally figured out the closest major city to his home and I arranged for the bus ticket to that city. He assured me he could get home from there on his own.
Again, this man was speaking English, he was from my own country, and yet I could not understand most of what he said.
Communication is hard. Even when we speak the same language—literally or metaphorically—communication is fraught with misunderstanding. We think and speak differently, we have diverse experiences and personal filters, and we are not always good at being patient with those who express themselves another way.
My experience with the British TV shows has reminded me that if we are patient and listen carefully and if we are willing to be persistent, understanding can come. It may come slowly and it may be an imperfect understanding, but understanding is possible. The only way we can learn to appreciate how unique and special God has made each of us is to be willing to listen to one another and be open to learning a new perspective. Think how much more peaceful and pleasant the earth would be if we all listened to one another with patience and persistence. Maybe it should start with each one of us.