At Christmas I was with my kids for a four day trip to Berlin. I gave my thirteen year old son a basketball, and while the kids were sleeping the whole morning of the 25th, I went exploring the unfamiliar neighborhood. Back home, the kids were up, and we all wanted to play some basketball. I explained to my son that I had seen two places where we could play.
– “There’s one place here”, I said pointing to the north, “and another place here”, I said pointing to the south. “Which one do you prefer?” These were the words I used.
– “I prefer that one”, he said, pointing to the North.
– “Because it’s closest”
– “How did you know that?”
I actually hadn’t said anything that would indicate the distance to the two places.
– “Because of the way you said it”, my son finished. Off we went to the nearest basketball court.
What’s interesting here is that not only didn’t I use any words that would indicate distance, I actually didn’t have any intention of communicating anything about it. What more is: I hadn’t even come to any conscious conclusion in my mind about it, only realising the fact about the proximity of one of the places the moment my son expressed it in words.
I think it is possible to draw three conclusions from this little story:
- our non-verbal communication is a source for precise information about spatial relations between physical places, people and objects. Our bodily and vocal gestures are adding valuable gradient information to the conversation, where words – in their binarity – fall short
- we are carrying a lot of information in our bodies from daily experiences, – like an imprint in flesh and bones – but we are not necessarily conscious about how and when we are conveying the information.
- of the vast amount of non-verbal knowledge we are bringing in to the interaction, only a small portion will surface, and only when someone has an interest in that specific information. It seems that the idea of wasting too much energy walking towards a basketball court is more important to a teenager than to his 43 year old father