Seeing the best in life's challenges

Jargon is Tricky

on August 15, 2012

Have you had the experience where you listen to someone who is well-versed, or maybe you could say immersed, in a subject area you know little about?  You notice that they have a set of words, a vocabulary, that obviously has specific meaning in the context of their subject area, but might not mean very much to you?  People use words to convey meaning, to describe concepts that might be complicated or have a lot of context and history to them.  If you aren’t real familiar with the context, the way that person talks about their subject area might seem like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.

This is true for any area of interest or expertise:  finance, economics, auto repair, sports, knitting, video games, health care, politics, even religion.  People who share expertise in a subject area can use jargon to make their conversations more efficient – they can use a word as shorthand to talk about something very complicated that they both understand.  But to an “outsider” listening in, the conversation would not be understandable at all.

We have to use words to convey complex concepts.  But let’s face it, when you get into complicated concepts or nuanced circumstances, it’s very difficult to describe something in words to a person who hasn’t had experience with what you’re talking about.  Any individual can hear words, a description of a situation, and interpret those words with their own personal bias and experience, and come up with an understanding that could be quite different from what the other person was trying to say.

Is it any wonder people misunderstand each other??

We hear someone using certain jargon, and we can get the quick impression that this person knows what they are talking about!  If you happen to be well-versed in that same subject area, you might find out after a bit of discussion that the person knows some jargon, but they don’t really understand the subject.  And the opposite might be true – a person might understand the concepts really well, but they don’t use the jargon you are used to.

My point is, we all need to watch ourselves, so that we do not make conclusions too fast about what we are hearing.  Words are powerful, but they have their limits.  Do you take words literally or do you listen for the message behind the words that the person is trying to convey?

The more esoteric and conceptual the subject area, the tougher this gets.

Which brings me to religion and spirituality.

Having attended churches with very different “styles” over the years, it is easy to see how a faith community can get comfortable with their own “jargon.”  Some groups refer to “the Lord,” some say God, some say “Spirit,” you get the idea.  It would be easy to assume, if you are used to saying “the Lord,” that anyone else who uses this term has the same understanding that you do.  And it would be tempting to conclude that those who use other terms “don’t get it.”  But that is a very simplistic approach.  These terms are used to describe the indescribable, the Creator, the Source of everything, something that is impossible to adequately describe in words.

(Interestingly, Ernie Fitzpatrick had something very similar to say recently about how we approach the Bible.)

So why do we get stuck at the level of jargon?

Well, it’s just human nature.  It’s what comes naturally.  It’s not that we are doing anything “wrong.”   BUT, if we want to push our understandings of complicated topics to a greater level, we can become more aware of this dynamic, and work at allowing ourselves to expand our ability to “hear” more than just the words.

Human nature can find this very scary.  We are comfortable with people we know, who speak the same language we do, who don’t take us outside our comfort zone.  Our instinct is to avoid the person with crazy sounding ideas, rather than taking the time to understand their underlying meaning.  We don’t want anyone questioning our status quo!!

There’s a lot of discussion about spirituality, in particular, that is “out there” that seems really wacky at first glance.  The safest approach is, “don’t go there!”  Don’t even read any of that stuff, it’s crazy, don’t consider anything that upsets your comfortable paradigm.

If you are so comfortable that your paradigm is The Truth, then what is so scary?  What’s wrong with stretching your mind to consider something that is outside the box?  You might learn a lot about yourself if you are able to engage the process.  What’s the harm?

Personally, I have decided to be fearless about investigating all kinds of stuff that others might consider wacky.  I am stretching my mind.  I am challenging myself to use my own brainpower and instincts to form my own conclusions about whatever comes my way.  I am doing this for me, not to influence or convince anyone else of anything.

So, why are you writing about it, you ask??  Well, it is simply an outlet for me to express myself.  Writing helps me process my thoughts.  I’m writing anonymously and letting my words be “out there.”  If someone finds my musings by googling, that’s great.  And yes, I do get a kick out of watching my stats come up, and seeing all the views from around the world.  I don’t want to separate myself or hide from the world, but I do want to sit back and watch any interactions unfold.  Not sure if that makes sense to anyone else.  It’s a thing that’s a little hard to describe in words.  🙂


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