• Famed Essayist Norman Cousins on Communication Breakdown

    by  • December 2, 2011 • On Culture

    Renowned American essayist Norman Cousins, who died in 1990 at the age of 75, wrote “The Communication Collapse” for Time magazine shortly before his death. Some excerpts from that thoughtful and provocative piece.

    “Much of the trouble we get into (as individuals or organizations or as government) is connected to sloppy communication. Our words too often lead us away from where we want to go; they unwittingly antagonize friends or business associates. We are infuriated when our position is not understood and then becomes the collapsing factor in an important business deal. Or we are terrified when the leaders of government miscommunicate and put their countries on a collision course…

    “One need not strain for specimens of poor communication in everyday life. Like polluted air, it surrounds and encases us. I see it in the wording of informed-consent papers that patients are asked to sign before undergoing medical procedures.

    “I see it in the small print of insurance policies or on the backs of airline tickets. I struggle over it in tax forms or information from government agencies. I agonize over it in the instructions that come with do-it-yourself kits.

    “I strain to comprehend it when I stop to ask directions, or when I hear a sports announcer explain why an outfielder played a single into a triple or why a wide receiver ran the wrong route.

    “Much of the stumbling and incoherence that gets in the way of effective communication these days has its origin in our failure early on to develop respect for thought processes. The way thoughts are converted into language calls for no less attention in formal schooling than geography or mathematics or biology or any of the other systematic subjects. Squeezing essential meaning into arbitrary and unworkable time limits leads to glibness on one end and exasperation on the other. We need not put up with either.”