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  • Writer's pictureD. Randall Faro

A Concert of Farts

Misunderstandings. Some are comical. Some start wars.

This old one has been around for a while, but it points to what often happens in reality.

Woman: “I want to divorce my husband.”

Lawyer: “OK, let’s begin with a few questions.”

Woman: “Like what?”

Lawyer: “Well, do you have any grounds?”

Woman: “Yes, we have about five acres out in the country.”

Lawyer: “No, I mean do you have a grudge?”

Woman: “No, but we have a nice, wide carport and a storage shed.”

Lawyer: “Let me ask a different way. Do you have any complaints about him?”

Woman: “Like what?”

Lawyer: “Well, does he beat you up?”

Woman: “No. I’m up at least an hour before him every day.”

Lawyer: “What about your role here? Do you ever wake up grouchy?”

Woman: “No. When he’s in a bad mood I just let him sleep.”

Lawyer: “Mam, why exactly do you want to get a divorce?

Woman: “Well, the guy just can’t communicate!”

A child was on the playground running with joy and looking backwards towards her mom for smiling approval. The mother, seeing that the child was heading toward a horizontal metal bar, yelled, “Duck, Natalie! Duck!” The little girl gleefully exclaimed, “Quack, quack,” and then ran into the bar.

Many years ago when I was doing youth work, some teenagers dropped by for a visit. My wife had just begun frying some bacon when one of our infant children needed bathroom assistance. So she asked one of the boys to watch the bacon while she attended to the child. When she returned to the kitchen the bacon had been reduced to inedible black strips. The teenager dutifully watched the whole process.

In 1982, during the height of the cold war, the Swedish navy was convinced that their country’s territorial waters were being invaded by Russian submarines. The Swedish petty officers reported getting repeated sonar readings consistent with submarine propeller noise. The government was convinced that a Soviet invasion was imminent, if not underway. Protests were made to the Russian government which, of course, denied the presence of any of their subs. While no armed hostilities took place, the ongoing unsettling noises continued to cause panic both in Swedish sonar rooms and within diplomatic agencies. It wasn’t until 1996 that civilian bioacousticians solved the problem of the fishy sonar images. The cause of the international kerfuffle: a school of herring.

When they gather for the night, herring chitchat with each other by flatulence. Their swim bladders produce gas which is expelled through the anus. The herring use this concert of farts to communicate in a range of frequencies that escapes the ears of their predators, except the Swedish navy. The shoal of hundreds of thousands of sleek ocean dwellers mimicked the sound of a sub’s screws. This discovery averted what could have been the start of WWIII.

A plethora of additional examples could be added to these. Misunderstandings ruin relationships and cause laughter, and do everything in between. That being the case, a red flag of caution needs to wave between our ears with consistent regularity in the quest to understand correctly and perhaps avert tragedy.

This means checking one’s own communications to ensure that what one wishes to convey is actually being conveyed. If there are two ways that something can be understood, the communicator should make plain which one is intended. The possibility of misunderstanding also means making sure, to whatever extent possible, that one understands correctly the message directed at him or her. If there’s doubt, seek clarification.

A nurse should have double-checked her wording before she told the elderly gentleman: “We are now going to take off our pants and I’m going to get you in bed." Clarity, folks.

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