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COMMUNICATION: “If you want to be understood – listen.”

Movie quote from: Babel (2006) – Movie tagline

babel
I watched Babel without subtitles, so it was tough to find a meaningful quote.  I suspect there were some thought-provoking lines in the film, but they were spoken in Arabic, Spanish, or Japanese, languages I don’t understand.  However, this is the point of the film.  We can understand each other, if we will only take the time. 

Despite the language barrier, the audience generally knows what is going on in Babel.   We can hear the tone of voice and see the bodily gestures of each character.  Whether it was anguish over the actions of a child in Morocco, the frail uncertainty of a troubled teen in Japan, or the bliss of a newly married couple in Mexico, the audience remains engaged, even though we don’t understand the words from the screen.

It is said that only 10% of communication comes from our words.  The remainder comes from the tone of our voice and the actions of our body.  In this way, we can circumnavigate the troubled waters of language differences.  If both parties in a conversation are committed, meaningful exchanges of information and perspectives can occur without words. 

In Babel, the characters have difficulty understanding each other.  They make assumptions based on their prejudices.  A busload of tourists won’t remain in an Arabic town to help an injured busmate because they assume all Arabs are terrorists.  A border guard treats a respectable Mexican woman with indignity because he assumes she is from poverty.  Even those who speak the same language prefer to take the shortcut of assumptions rather than discuss directly the pains of their unique personal loss.     

Babel helps us to see that the key component of real communication is taking the time to listen.  Barriers like differing languages, differing assumptions, and differing cultural perspectives require us to shift the focus from ‘me’ to ‘we’ if we truly want to understand and be understood.  There is no quick path to understanding another person’s point of view.     

With travel and telecommunication, the world is becoming more interconnected.  Perhaps nowadays we’re only five degrees of separation from anyone else in the planet.  The movie, Babel seems to think so.  However, despite our more integrated connectedness, our assumptions and fears keep us apart.  We can do better.  We can take the time to listen.    

Check out: a COMMUNICATION article from the movie Hitch