Fighting For Peace

I was in a meeting recently whose members included a mother and her grown daughter. The matter up for debate was whether a certain promotional email could or should be sent, and the ones who ended up doing the debating were the mother and daughter. What had begun as a question was quickly headed toward a disagreement. There was something confusing about this disagreement, however. I could not understand what they were getting ready to argue over. As I listened closer, I realized that the mother was saying X but the daughter was hearing Y, and the daughter was saying A but the mother was hearing B. I stepped in and translated and the impending confrontation dissolved. I thought immediately of when I was sixteen and did the same thing with my girlfriend and her mother. I do not mean to suggest this is a mother/daughter phenomenon. Rather, it is a human/human phenomenon. As I left the meeting, I wondered how many battles the world over were precisely this, the divide between what is said and what is heard.

As a writer, I have long seen myself as a translator. I hear something that comes to me as a feeling or an idea, and I translate it as accurately as possible into words so other people can hear or feel it too. But as I drove home that night I kept thinking about that mother and daughter, about what was said and what was heard.

How many years had I spent thinking that if I could just say clearly what I had always known everything I desired would come to me? How many years had I spent toiling to master this language, whose nuances were my only obstacle to complete understanding? If only I could show them, all of them, then I would know peace.  All the conflict I have known in my life is surely the result of inaccurate translation.

I arrived home to the familiar sounds of my family. There were days I felt as though I had already heard everything my wife and children would ever have to say. There were days I felt as though I had already heard everything the entire world had to say. And there were days I felt I was fighting and fighting to be heard above the din of all that had already been said, fighting earnestly for the peace I so craved that it was hard to hear that I was the one making all the noise.

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