Monday, September 08, 2014

What Do You Want to Say?

In reviewing French recently (I recommend the Michel Thomas method), I encountered this gem. The lesson is ostensibly about something I already know. Luckily, French has two verbs for knowing something. They show how my knowing shifted:
the French verb connaitre - have familiarity with - implies how I knew this grammar lesson before. But after hearing it stated this way, I developed a deeper knowing, which the French verb savoir expresses.

Here's the lesson:
When I want to ask informally, "What does that mean?" I ask, "Ca veut dire?"
The literal translation is: "What does it want to say?"
The same goes for trying to understand someone speaking to you:
"Qu'est-ce que vous voulez dire?" literally means "What do you want to say?"
but translates as "What do you mean?"

This just one of a million wonderful and simple ways that learning different languages shows us a hidden message in our own words. Here, that is this: what we want is what we mean.

Especially when working with editing, I often ask my students "What do you want me to think at the end of this?" Or I will tell them: "This is what I think this means." It's powerful when someone mirrors that back. Of course, anyone's feedback is based on their own experience, but if many people we trust tell us what they hear - what seems to be the meaning - and it is inaccurate with what we mean to be saying/want to say/mean - then we know the issue lies with us. Sometimes the most powerful thing we can do, in any kind of communication, but especially in "literature" or "poetry" is to simply say: "Here is what I want to say/what I want this to convey/what I mean." It may seem like such a statement would break the expression of magic, but when editing or hacking through tough topics, this kind of clarification makes the core of communication diamond clear.

So often, we hope that meaning will be as simple as stating the facts. But we are constantly translating. Always. From your world to mine, from my world to yours, from our inside to outside and back again. Kindness, humor, and a reminder that we are always invested in understanding - all of us - can go a long way in the patience necessary to communicate, whether that is in editing, ordering a coffee, or trying to discuss difficult topics in a long-term relationship.

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