She got upset.
He lost it.
She couldn't keep it together.
He got mad.
Does this sound familiar? I hear it everyday, from really smart people. When I ask, "So, what happens when you tell him he can't go over to his friend's house?" I get, "Oh, he gets really upset. He has a fit."
The problem is that while I'm picturing the kid, all red-faced and screaming obscenities, throwing cutlery, jumping up and down, and kicking the family dog... his parents might be picturing him weeping inconsolably while rocking in the corner. Those two things look really different! But the word "fit" could be applied to both of them. See, "descriptions" of behavior usually aren't describing behavior. They are merely summing up and labeling, a kind of linguistic shorthand we all use.
Most of my job is getting people to paint the picture of behavior for me, because I'm sitting in my office and don't actually get to see things go down (not usually, at least). I need to know the specifics--I need people to SHOW me, not TELL me.
Yes! There it is! Showing vs. telling is not just relevant to writing. It's essential to my effectiveness as a psychologist, and to anyone who wants to really figure out why people do what they do. We have to get the description of the behavior ... but also, the context, the environment, the relationships, the sequence of events. For me, if I only get the "telling" version of things, if I don't dig deeper, I'm going to fail.
I think this happens a lot in human communication--Person A says something, and Person B assumes he understands what A is saying. He pictures it in his head, and he responds to A based on that picture. But of course, A has a completely different picture in her head and is reacting with it in mind. Glorious miscommunication in action.
Now, tell me. Have you ever had a miscommunication like this? Have you ever assumed you knew what someone meant, only to find out the two of you were picturing something completely different? How does this kind of showing vs. telling language affect your life? And how about your writing life?
And yes! It's Monday, which means you should visit Laura to read her Mental Health Monday post. Do it. Or else I'll have a fit.