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Jim Schneegold: Children can teach us art of communication

Human behavior has always fascinated me. How do we go from a fully expressed child to a resigned adult? Let me give you an example. I walk into my classroom of eager elementary school-age writers who are ready to learn anything. In their world, there is only this moment. There is no yesterday, last week, tonight or tomorrow. They are in the now: “Hi, Mr. Jim. What’s up?” After we exchange pleasantries, we get to learning. It’s a very liberating environment to experience. I love being in their world. They make me concentrate and really listen.

The day before a recent class, I had planned a handout that, to me, clearly explained the game I had planned for us. I purposely used simple words to describe the rules of the game. I waited for the excitement that only children can bring. Instead of grand applause from my heroes, they gave me a look with their glazed eyes that said, “What? I don’t get it.”

Children have this magical way of cutting through all the red tape. I thought I had been clear, but apparently, at this age, children haven’t learned tact yet. They simply react instantly and say things like, “I don’t get it!” Here I was, communicating with the written word that I have perfected for years, and their response was an honest, “What are you talking about?”

I love their honesty. I love the challenge to go at it from a different angle with directions they will understand better. It is important to me that they “get it.” I don’t say this to be mean-spirited. I say this because children never seem to lose their ability to stop when something isn’t understood and say, “Could you repeat that? I don’t understand.”

But adults rarely do this. We assume that what came out of our mouths was completely clear and interpreted the same way we think we expressed it. The speaker assumes the listener understands the words the way he meant them. The receiver puts whatever pretense he has had with this person and runs it through his “I think I know you” spin cycle. Both parties leave with whatever information they assume is correct.

If you don’t like a certain individual, you add all this bitter and negative connotation that doesn’t need to be there. But when you get along with the person, you always give him the positive benefit of the doubt.

The bottom line is: Where does the truth really lie? People have no idea that they might have misinterpreted the message. Adults don’t have any time for that.

We all communicate in a way that seems to work best for us. Are we being perceived the way we think we are being perceived? How do we occur to people? That’s the question. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. We seem to get trapped into the only way we know how to be, and we are often surprised when someone else doesn’t appreciate or understand our position. Why is that?

Republican versus Democrat; a bully versus a passive person; a taker versus a giver. How do we get that way? Human behavior. Fascinating, isn’t it?

I know that some adults will read this article and mutter, “I know exactly what he’s talking about.” However, if I gave this same story to my second-, third- and fourth-graders to read, they would look up at me, twist their heads to the right and ask as loud as they can, “Mr. Jim, what’s a Republican?”