originally published in THE PENN

Marching 7/4 written by Lori Ferguson
Issue date: 11/15/04 Section: Opinion

Linguistics is a particular passion of mine, so I find great amusement in learning how idioms such as “absence makes the heart grow fonder” become cliché: they are truisms.”Say what you mean and mean what you say” has proven true. I don’t understand how sometimes people say they’ll call me later and I hear that as a promise.They are actually just blowing me off and saying whatever they can to placate me and escape the current conversation.Ignorant little me, oblivious to the true intent of the statement, actually expected that person to call — a call that never comes. And then I’m considered “silly” and “foolish” by others for believing they really were going to call — like they said they would.I had difficulty learning math and science last semester, so over the summer I went through a battery of neuropsychological tests to determine if I had a learning disability.While I found I had had a weakness in both of those areas, with my strength falling within verbal parameters, the doctor has in his report that I have a “mild case” of a Non-Verbal Learning Disorder.In the neuropsychologist’s report, he states that people with this disorder have difficulty “interpreting simultaneously clues from the social matrix like teacher or peers facial features, vocal tone, posture, position in space, etc.”What I was told that means is that I have trouble understanding that someone who says she’s not mad at me, but is standing there with her arms crossed, isn’t being truthful.When I heard this and tried to process this information, I asked the counselors reviewing the report with me, “But why don’t people just come out and say that if that’s what they really mean?”The one counselor answered me with a statement such as, “Well, Lori, it’s true that’s the way it should be, but the world just doesn’t work that way.”This all leaves me with the question, “Why doesn’t the world work that way? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if people said what they were really thinking — tactfully but honestly?”Then there would be no confusion, for the ambiguity would be gone and we wouldn’t have to hear, “Well, I did say that, but what I really meant was . . .”Improving our communication skills would make us happier and more productive. I’m not asking people to say, “I moved away from you because your breath smells like a skunk died in your mouth,” for that’s offensive.Saying, “I just prefer to stand over here because I like the view better,” avoids the issue.However, “Hey, did you try the steak with onions and garlic at lunch today? A breath mint might help eliminate the repercussions from eating that” might get him to brush his teeth without upsetting or embarrassing him.I agree with the person who asked me, “They call expecting people to be honest a disorder?” Why am I the one at fault, with a distorted view of the world?