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WORDLESS COMMUNICATION FOR SAFETY

Barigbon  Nsereka

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Communication:  A Rudimentary Exposition

When the  driver of the taxi  in front of you trafficates leftwards, you immediately know he  is  turning to the left side of the road. Communication has taken place. When you obey  highway codes, you are  involved in communication.  When a bird  chirps on the nearby tree,  a dog barks around the corner,  a kitten mews,  a cock crows or   a bee dances ritually, certain messages come to one’s mind. Could this bird or animal  have communicated to one  and other creatures around? Can one give meanings to these sounds or acts? If the answer is yes  ,then  communication is on.  When a man walks past without a word or greeting, when a lover breathes softly or talks in whispers and when a wife returns home to receive a cold welcome from the husband, do we have some kind of feelings or thought? If we do, then the art of communication is at play. The rustling of leaves  in the bush or of flowers at home, is a communicative activity. Keeping  silent –  as evidence of powerlessness, to resist the urge to express anger, to   show reverence and love, to concede an argument as the proverbial answer to a fool, to indicate  lack of interest in the matter at stake, as a manifestation of injured feelings or to tame pent-up emotions – is a communicative activity.

We have animal communication, floral (plant) communication and human communication. In addition to a phenomenal variety of sounds, animal communication includes gestures, attention-grabbing colours, flashing lights and complex scents. Plants can communicate “with one another and with certain animals….Communication truly is vital to earth’s highly interdependent and intricate web of life” (Awake! September 22, 2003, p.3). This sounds incredible but it is true. According to Discover magazine, cited by Awake! September 22, 2003,  researchers in theNetherlands  had observed that “Lima bean plants when attacked by spider mites, release a chemical distress call that attracts other mites that prey on the spider mite. Similarly, corn, tobacco and cotton plants, when invaded by caterpillars, emit air-bone chemicals that draw wasps – a lethal enemy of caterpillars” (p.6). By this reaction, as one researcher reasons, a plant is not just communicating that it is damaged, it is also saying specifically who is damaging it. It is such  a mystery! When under an attack or warned of one, a plant engages its own defence mechanisms which include toxins that kill insects or compounds that impede or even stop the invader’s ability to digest the plant.

Our concern here is with human communication. This is as old as mankind and it is used in all human endeavours. Life in the splendid garden of Adam’s Eden would have been a drudgery and terribly uninteresting if the Almighty Father had not, in His infinite wisdom, created Eve for Adam to be his companion, a companionship which subsisted on communication. It was also communication that facilitated their supposed running away from the presence of their omnipresent creator –  an act of theirs which smacked of their crass ignorance of the true nature of God. Those who believe in the letter and spirit of the Holy Bible do know that it was through communication that God “decreed” the world and the fullness thereof into being.

Communication among humans at different levels is necessary to ensure that social, political, cultural and economic goals and objectives are attainable. In achieving these goals, we must know that commitment is built on trust, and that trust requires a two-way flow of communication.

Etymology and Definition   

The word communication is derived from the Latin verb communicare, meaning  “to share” and the Latin noun communis, meaning “common.” Taken together, therefore, communication means “to share things in common.” When we communicate, we make  ideas, information or attitudes  a common possession. “We thus increase our shared knowledge, our ‘common sense”’- the basic precondition for community life (Rosengren, 2000,p.1).

Communication is the exchange of messages between or among people for the purpose of achieving common meanings. Unless meanings are shared, it is extremely difficult to influence others. Communication, therefore, is a process by which information is transmitted through a common system of symbols, signs and behaviour.  “Communication takes place when one mind so acts upon its environment that another mind is influenced, and in the other mind, an experience occurs which is like the experience in the first mind and is caused in part by that experience.” This definition which was given in 1928 by the English literary critic and author, A. Richards, means that  communication is the sending of a message through a medium to a receiver, with the intent to affect the latter’s behaviour.   According to Emery, Ault, &   Agee (1976), “Communication among human beings is the art of transmitting information, ideas and attitude from one person to another.”

Basic Elements (Components) of the Communication Process

The communication process is made up of basic components or elements. These are (i) sender (ii) encoding (iii) message (iv) medium (v) receiver  (vi) decoding (vii) feedback and (viii) noise. These components help us appreciate the challenges of effective communication in human organizations. They serve as the means by which people interact with others through the conduit of communication.

Sender (source)

The sender or source of the message is the initiator or originator of that message. Messages are usually initiated in response to a stimulus, such as a question, a need, meeting, an interview, a problem, a report or an opinion.

 Encoding

This is the process (mental or physical) of translating the communicator’s thoughts, ideas or feelings into a form that is understandable to the destination or receiver of a message. The brain and vocal organs work together to organize the information to be shared by the message sender. The sender’s choice of words or gestures depends on such factors as the sender’s encoding skills and the assessment of the intended receiver’s ability to understand various verbal and past experiences. Infants, for instance, are taught through songs and pictures or drawings for easy comprehension of the messages meant for them. Communicating with them through abstract terms is as good as beating the air or making a mere noise  since no impact  in the form of imparting any knowledge will be made by the communicator.

Message

Message is the outcome of the encoding process. It comprises the ideas or information which is being shared or exchanged by the source with the receiver or audience. It could be a question, an  instruction, observation, reply, explanation or advice. A message consists of verbal and nonverbal symbols that convey meaning to the receiver.

Medium

Otherwise called channel, medium is the means or method through which communication is transmitted. While in interpersonal communication, the channel or medium could be sensory organs (in the face-to-face communication) telephone, walkie-talkie, GSM handset or letter, in mass communication, it could be newsletters, books, house journals, billboards, radio or television.

Receiver

Also called the destination or audience of communication, the receiver is the person with whom the message is exchanged. The same person who is designated receiver also assumes the role of the message sender – for communication involves the exchange of information – just as a message sender also doubles as message receiver.

Feedback

This is  the response or reply between the sender and the receiver. “Feedback is very important to communication because it enables the participants in the communication exchange to see whether ideas and feelings have been shared in the way they are intended” (Hybels and Weaver, 1989:10). In interpersonal communication, feedback is immediate whereas it is delayed in mass communication. Such expressions as  I beg your pardon, I see, I don’t think so, Yes, No, That’s all right, I don’t understand and Please clarify your last statement are examples of feedback in a face-to-face interaction. Letters to the editor; a rejoinder; responses to articles, columns and opinions in the print media and contributions to phone-in programmes in the broadcast media are examples of feedback in mass communication.

Decoding

This is the process of translating the transmitted symbols and words into a meaningful message. Put differently, it  is the process of  the receiver of a message transmitting that message symbol back into thought. There are three requirements for decoding to be possible:

(1)        The receiver must listen.

(2)        He must understand the language used in communication.

(3)        He must be acquainted with the  concepts of what is being discussed.

Once the message has been encoded, the question is, can the receiver decode it? This depends on whether the sender and the receiver have a shared experience, or what is called overlapping experience. When communication is effective, the sender and the receiver achieve a common meaning. In decoding, the receiver of the message draws from his store of knowledge or past experience of the symbols (verbal or non-verbal) used by the communicator and of the  norms and values transmitted in the message. The most important among this shared experience is language. There has to be a common language or similar language.

 Noise

Noise is anything that interferes with the fidelity of the communication. By noise, we do not mean only the physical noise but all other forms of defects which make a message non-understandable. Noise can be semantic (e.g. the use of words too difficult for the receiver to decode its meaning), mechanical (arising from faulty equipment), channel (such as static on radio, or type too small to be read easily), environmental or physical (e.g. sound of vehicle or crying  of a child) or physiological (e.g. headache or stomachache). Any of the above noises tampers with the accuracy of communication or distorts the message transmitted. That is, any of the things that contribute to signal breakdown  is noise.

AXIOMS OF COMMUNICATION

Axiom 1: One cannot not communicate. Because of the indispensability of communication to human survival, the first maxim of communication is: Man Cannot not communicate. This means that man must communicate to be alive just as man must eat to live. Communication is vital to human existence and  co-existence, giving meaning to human beings’ daily interactions. Man cannot avoid communicating  even if he tries because human life depends on it. That is why even when there is no conscious effort to communicate, one does it. For instance, if you don’t linguistically tell some little children disturbing your peace at your sitting-room to keep quiet but command them to be silent through a signal such as placing your forefinger vertically across your lips, you have communicated “loudly” to them.

Axiom 2: Human beings communicate both digitally and analogically.

Analogic communication refers to things by likeness (resemblance); digital communication refers to things by name. Watzlawick sees language as digital communication. With few exceptions, words have no similarity with the things or ideas they describe. Interactional theorists regard most nonverbal forms of communication – like the tone of voice, facial expression and touch – as analogic communication because they are a reflection of the communicator’s feelings. ####

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