Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Living in the Tower of Babel

Within our fairly traditional home in our typical suburban neighborhood lives a self-proclaimed nerd, a dreamer and an autistic or in more contemporary terms, a right brain, a left brain and a we're still figuring it out brain. Not surprisingly, we have very different conversational styles. 

And though time after time I have listed “English” as the language spoken in our home on surveys and physician’s forms, it occurred to me after an attempt at conversing with my family recently that I live a modern day Tower of Babel.

The biblical Tower of Babel

Tony speaks fluent geek. He lives in a very factual world of black and white. If I say the sky is blue, I’d better be able to back that statement up with detailed information on the atmospheric conditions, gas molecules and light waves. ‘Blue skying’ a concept might cause his head to blow up into a thousand pieces; talk of feelings or emotions makes his skin crawl.

Sam is an expert in echolalia. He contributes to conversations by quoting a random movie, video or book lines that oddly parallel our conversation. On rare occasions even punctuating conversations profoundly. He interprets to the very literal meaning of each word. No idioms for him. Use the expression "kick him out" and someone WILL get kicked. I promise.

As the out to lunch member of the house, I am a sucker for subtle nuances and metaphors and exploring multiple meanings of books or movies. I use liberal amounts of body language thinking you can express more with the raise of an eyebrow than a pile of words.

Only nuances, metaphors and body language aren't among the known languages of the Tower of Babel.

Say the words "Cape Cod" and Tony responds with weather and logistics. I discuss shopping and scenery and Sam hears cheeseburgers. Go to a movie and unless the bad guy is wearing a black hat, Tony is hopelessly lost. Give me numbers to crunch or directions to follow and my eyes glaze over.

Ask us to give the high points of any conversation and you are likely to get two very different interpretations. As for Sam, unless chocolate is involved, he won’t interpret at all. 

We greet each day babbling in a parallel sort of way, each of us hopeful that our words are understood well enough to muddle through the day without disaster. And some days do end well. Others are hopelessly communication challenged with conversations ending with a very quizzical, “Huh??” or worse yet, “Wow. I didn’t see THAT coming.” And still other days end in hysterical laughter.

Now and again I hear bragging of the solidarity of a particular household; where the mere utterance of the word "blue" results not only a complete understanding of the word blue but also the exact shade of blue. Where conversations are succinct and communication effective.  

I don’t happen to know that home.

Though our communication challenges may be a more extreme than some, I suspect we are not alone in our Tower of Babel. And I wouldn’t want to live any place else. I’d miss the elation of those rare occasions when we get it right.

Who’d want to live a place where everyone understands exactly the same thing, anyway? I mean really, where’s the fun in that? 


  1. Personally, I am a big fan of Mosaics over monochrome.

  2. Those movie quotes are not random, are they? Love the black hat part.
    I asked Jack once what he thinks about to relax when he's trying to fall asleep. Because I make up stories, of course. He said, "Fixing my boat engine."

  3. Wrong- When you say Cape Cod I think vacation mode, fast ferry & Nantucket!