How good a communicator are you?

Every year I read a lot of material: novels, biographies, history, scientific and medical articles, clinical trial protocols, media releases, you name it. But there is a very small number of books that I re-read — assiduously, every single year.

Two of them are:

  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Charles L. Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll)
  • Winnie the Pooh, by Allan Alexander (“A. A.”) Milne

I re-read these two books each year because they are filled with snippets of information of enormous value to anyone who wishes to become a good communicator. Here’s just one of dozens — arguably hundreds — of examples:

Screen Shot 2019-03-09 at 11.00.04 AMThe White Rabbit put on his spectacles. ‘Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?’ he asked.

‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’

Carroll, L. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chap. 12.

At first sight, of course, this is not a particularly informative piece of guidance. It can be classified as “obvious” in the extreme. But …

Think hard about this little piece of wisdom and who it was being written for. On July 4, 1862, when Dodgson first spun the tale of “Alice’s Adventures Underground” on a rowing boat on a picnic outing, Alice Pleasance Liddell was a 10-year-old child, the daughter of a highly respected academic at Oxford University, who had a vivid imagination and a tendency to show off her knowledge.

Then think hard about another quotation that had come several chapters earlier in the same book:

‘Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.

‘I do,’ Alice hastily replied; ‘at least — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.’

‘Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. ‘You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’

Carroll, L. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chap. 7.

Screen Shot 2019-03-09 at 11.15.22 AM

The third book is:

  • The Magus, by John Fowles,

an astonishing book about failures (and successes) in communication, failures of imagination and understanding, and mistaken perceptions. I continue to believe Fowles should have won a Nobel Prize for Literature for this singular novel alone, but others don’t agree.

And now, following the highly relevant guidance of the King of Hearts, I shall stop.

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