I was watching Finding Nemo the other night with our “youth of today”. I’d only seen it for the first time late last year – about 9 years after it was released. That’s par for the course. This was the second time and I was enjoying it just as much. Nemo is taken, dad swims after him and has one misadventure after another. After escaping sharks, a torpedo hits a mine and a large explosion ensues.
A bubble roils the surface of the ocean. Two birds watch it. One of them says, “Nice.” Then it flies away.
The first time I watched the film, I laughed at that one word. The delivery is excellent. The second time I heard it, I laughed as well but this time out of a new understanding. I was hearing it differently this time.
My first reaction had been – shall I dare say it – that of a “typical boy”. The bubble was meant to be understood as a fart, causing much hilarity to ensue. But I took the “Nice” as a compliment! While a boy might twist his face at a smell or sound, there is a deep-seated admiration of another who can cause disturbances or other mischief.
It was with that in mind when, the second time, I heard “Nice” as a reproach, and the subsequent departure as an expression of that distaste. That’s a more mature, girl or boy, response to something a bit disgusting or rude.
Words are complex tools. We think we’re being abundantly clear when we express an idea, only to find that it is misinterpreted or misunderstood due to a context or mindset we can’t control. Visual cues can help offer the speaker a chance to try a second explanation, so long as there is time and the first one hasn’t gone completely awry. An e-mail may seem clear but you don’t really know what the reaction is on the other end, until you get a response.
One thing I notice when speaking to some lawyers is their safe way of speaking, without committing to one thing or another. The vagueness that is caught up in their language can leave it open to interpretations that they may not have meant. The ensuing misunderstandings can result in creating unnecessary conflict. On the other hand, I spoke with a lawyer recently who was very precise both in the words used and in his manner, and his clarity struck me.
It – and the two birds – came to mind in another conversation. We were discussing something that had been said and the demoralizing effect it had had on the recipient. Sometimes we have the opportunity to choose a negative meaning or a positive one. We often find what we are looking for. I may overthink it, but I tend to look at the context and that helps me to keep perspective – and not overreact – to something that may not be as loaded a comment as it seems. That was my advice too – and to never react to anything on a Friday! – but those two birds will almost certainly reassert themselves in my own thoughts when faced with ambiguous comments.