Communicating with other humans remains at least as difficult as ever. I was in a Zoom group the other day, one face in a large mosaic of boxes — in the middle of making some brilliant point or other — when suddenly everybody else’s box froze, and only mine carried on to finish the sentence.
I was about to congratulate myself on being so brilliant that everyone else had fallen silent in awe, when the audio came back and the group leader said, “You froze in mid-sentence, Judy. What were you saying?”
I wanted to tell her, “No, I didn’t freeze, YOU did. All of you! I’m the only one who DIDN’T freeze.”
Because that’s how it was for me.
Just then my computer felt obliged to send me a message: “Your internet connection is unstable.” Gee, thanks. Now my own computer is pointing fingers at me! But wait a minute — just whose internet connection is this anyway? Isn’t that YOUR job, Mr. Computer?
Meanwhile, back at the Zoom meeting, I had to admit that even though it looked to me as if they had all frozen, what they saw was the exact opposite.
We were seeing different realities.
That’s when I began to think that, incredibly annoying as this Zoom glitch is, it might present us with the perfect way to think about a process that until now only happened invisibly inside our own heads.
Namely: Whenever we have a failure to communicate, whose fault is it? Yours or mine?
Don’t answer that. It’s obviously not mine!
My only problem is with all those pesky other people in the world who are equally sure that the problem isn’t them.
For example, just now my husband came to me with a box of frozen chicken cutlets and asked me if I thought it would be all right to use it for supper since he had found it in the front?
“In front of the house?” I thought, panic-stricken. If that’s so, then somehow I missed it and it’s been out there at least 24 hours, which was the last time we had any groceries delivered. Gosh, how is it the raccoons in this neighborhood left it alone?
“Just throw it away!” I shouted at him.
“Why are you shouting at me?” he shouted back. “It’s probably two weeks newer than the ones at the back of the freezer, but I didn’t want to unpack the whole thing to get them. I think the sell-by date is still good.”
“The front of the FREEZER? I thought you meant in front of the HOUSE.”
“That’s crazy! Why would I be asking you about that? If that’s what I meant, I’d just throw it away!”
“Exactly!” said I.
And so we went on, shouting at each other for another hour, until we were both tired enough to calm down. That’s when we realized that we had been talking — or shouting — right past each other.
But by that time, we were both too exhausted to do anything but eat dinner… the aforesaid chicken cutlets.
“Well, it’s better than the raccoon getting them,” I muttered.
“What did you say?” my beloved asked me.
“Nothing.” I went to the freezer, finally scrounging up enough ice cream for us to have as dessert.
“Let’s make a rule,” I finally said. “The rule is this: If I can’t understand what you have said, the fault is yours.”
“Ok,” said my life’s partner, “as long as I get to use the same rule.”
“What I mean is, whenever I can’t understand something YOU have said, Judy, it’s YOUR fault.”
Hmm. That didn’t exactly work out the way I had planned. I decided to clarify. “No, when you can’t understand me, that’s YOUR fault.”
“So,” said my husband. “If you can’t understand me, it’s my fault; but if I can’t understand you, it’s also my fault?”
“That sounds about right.”
“So, no matter what happens, it’s always my fault?”
I’m glad we got that settled. Now if I could just teach it to that pesky computer!