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ONE EVENING, my wife Muriel volunteered to take care of a neighbor's four-year-old girl while her mother studied for an exam. So we drove to the day-care center to get her.

Muriel told the woman at the entrance that she had come for Kimi. Some children hanging around the door knew that Kimi's mother usually picked her up, and they wondered who this woman might be. One little girl noted some gray strands in Muriel's hair, and connected this with something in her own experience and asked, "Are you Kimi's grandmother?"

"No," Muriel replied, "I'm Kimi's friend."

The kids regarded this claim with a mixture of annoyance and disgust, and went running off into the main room shouting "Kimi, your grandmother is here."

For a small child, a "friend" is someone little like themselves; the Big People fall into categories like mother, father, grandmother, and such. For Muriel to call herself a "friend" of Kimi's clearly didn't fit into the category systems inside these children's heads.

Note that if Muriel had said "I'm Kimi's baby-sitter," the children would have understood that. Even "I'm Kimi's neighbor" probably would have been accepted.

A major problem of communication is that in thinking of Sender/Message/Receiver, we overlook a key part of the picture, the interaction in the Receiver's head between the Message (or at least his or her understanding of the Message) and that stuff already in the Receiver's head, out of which he creates a "meaning" of the message. People generally have little trouble sending the message, but we may not adequately consider whether the Receiver will be able to put it together the way we wanted.
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Title Annotation:Illustrating General Semantics; illustrating miscommunication
Author:Wanderer, Robert
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Date:Mar 22, 1993
Previous Article:Sex: a review of reviews.
Next Article:The electronic polis: the 1992 election.

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