But, can you hear or understand me now?

Published 1:24 pm Thursday, February 2, 2017

I once attended a public event where the featured speaker made the point that we should all be careful about what we say and how we say it. To give an example, he commented that he could say, “I hate black people,” and on the evening news the lead into the story would simply say that this speaker said he hated black people.

True enough, that evening the local news led into coverage on this event by showing a very brief video clip of the speaker saying, “I hate black people.”

The news station followed up in the coverage by explaining the event and the comment, but what if the damage had already been done? The speaker chose that quote because he knew it would get listeners’ attention. The news producer chose the video clip because it would get viewers’ attention.

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But some people see and hear things out of context.

If I were a betting man, I’d be willing to wager that at least one person who saw that broadcast — or at least saw the opening teaser — went away thinking that particular speaker was an absolute racist. We choose what we perceive, really, and we choose what we quote.

When I was working on my college degree, I found it very interesting how people would pull quotes out of context to fit their intended purpose. I found this to be true among students, professors and authors of source materials. Quotes from prominent authors were used to make it seem that they held one view when they, in fact, believed something completely opposite.

I questioned the professors of one class: “Why do we do this? Why do we pull quotes out of context to support our viewpoints?” Do we do it to try to lend credence to our own viewpoints? Do we do it because we just like the person we’re quoting?

The answer I got from one of these men was that all people do this, and that nothing is ever truly in its proper context.

If that’s the case, then nothing we say or do matters in the way it is intended, because it all means just what the person hearing us or seeing us chooses to believe. In a perfect world, only what is meant would ever be expressed, and only what is intended would ever be received.  But this world does not work that way.

Our reality is that first, second and last impressions matter. Everything anyone else says or does is interpreted by me through my own set of filters I use to observe the world around me. This is my “worldview.”

I bring my own worldview to the table where I sit down to be “fed” information. Everything I eat in my buffet gained from others will ultimately taste like what I already expect. Unless I am very careful, that is.

It sometimes seems people who argue that you must have an open mind rarely are as open as they demand you be. Be tolerant. See my viewpoint. But don’t you dare misinterpret it or see it through your own eyes.

Someone very close to me often offers his political opinions online, and I usually disagree with them sharply. I usually don’t respond at all, but when I do it’s with a “consider another viewpoint” intention. Unfortunately, he takes it not as disagreement with his position, but criticism of him as a person. While I see this as his inability to interpret my words and actions correctly, he no doubt sees it as my inability to understand and appreciate his words and actions.

But I cannot stop talking because someone might mishear me. I cannot stop walking because someone might not understand my gait. But I can be careful, considerate and compassionate in my talk and walk. So that’s how I choose to live. If I’m misunderstood, at least it won’t be the first time.

Brett Campbell is news editor, and can be reached at brett.campbell@dailyleader.com or 601-265-5307.