Communications has to be one of the weirdest classes I’ve ever taken. I’m taking it now, and I took it once before in high school, and the more I think about it, the more I realize how much happy self-delusion one must possess to teach a communications course, or any course that proposes to teach us or tell us about something we’ve all been doing anyway all our lives and will continue to do regardless of whether or not we ever take or pass the class.
It’d be a bit like taking a class called “Eating.” Not everybody eats the same way—some people use chopsticks, some people forks and spoons, some people only use their right hand, some people eat parts of an animal or vegetable that other people throw away—and it could be interesting to learn about that, but at the end of the day, I’ve been eating my whole life and I’m not likely to change the way I shove my food into my mouth because I’m aware others do it differently. Or imagine taking a class on sleeping. Sure, not everybody sleeps the same; some people are insomniacs, some only need four hours a night, and some need nine. Some people have sleep apnea and have to sleep hooked up to a breathing machine. Some people snore. Some people can only sleep with socks on, and others can’t even have a blanket on their feet when they fall asleep. Some people tuck the end of the sheet under the mattress. Some people don’t ever make their beds. We all fall asleep and stay asleep differently, but knowing that you toss and turn unless you’ve got an east-facing window open 1-7/8” won’t stop me from being able to sleep pretty much anywhere, including on top of the washing machine and, on one memorable occasion, the seventh row back at somebody’s wedding.
Some would argue that communications courses teach people how to be better communicators, but I think there are other classes that do a better job of it. English, for example, would teach somebody how to write or say things in a way that expresses an idea clearly and (*coughCOUGHcoughcough*) concisely. Sociology or anthropology could teach a person about cultural customs, the differences between the sexes, and about people from various religious backgrounds. A decent psychology course would, at the very least, give somebody insight into how different opinions and perspectives are formed and shaped, and a basic philosophy course is an exercise in patience and understanding. It was for me, anyway. If half of communication is knowing what NOT to say, Philosophy 131 was a crash course in holding my tongue, as I spent most of the course wanting to roll my eyes until I broke them and tell my professor that I wasn’t drooling all over my notes because I was bored out of my skull and about to fall asleep, I was philosophizing. (Please note that I have taken at least one college course in all of the subjects mentioned above.)
Anyway, my point is that your basic communications course seems to be nothing more than a mash-up of several, better courses (except maybe philosophy), all of which do more than feed students easily digestible bites of pertinent information before moving on to something else. It’s like you could either take the above mentioned courses and gain a lot of real insight into human beings, culture, language, and perspective, or you could take a communications course and kid yourself into thinking you’ve learned anything at all.
If I’m being too hard on the subject you’ll have to forgive me. I’m twenty-seven years old, and college is an entirely different experience for me now than it was when I was nineteen. For one thing, I work to pay my bills now, not just to buy candy and magazines, and I work many hours every week. School has to be juggled with my day job, my commitments to family and friends, sleep, and my relationship with my boyfriend. I don’t like classes which I feel waste the precious and rare commodity that is my time. Unfortunately communications has become one of those classes everybody has to take, because somebody somewhere convinced everybody else that without communications under their belts, students would devolve to culturally insensitive expletive bombs during important occasions like job interviews and funerals.
So I have to take it, and, yeah, it’s an easy A, so I should just shut up about it already. But the more hoop-jumping assignments I do (“Tell me about a situation in which you had to use communication to make a point…” ASKFHO0IUREIOUASDASD1771FRUG?! Dude?! How is it possible to make a point without communication of some kind?! Is it considered communication if I set my textbook on fire in your front yard? I’m sure it’d make a fucking point.) and the more of the textbook I read (“Cross-cultural communication is important because you will occasionally have to deal with people who are different from you…” Well, in THAT case I’ll just move to Connecticut and communicate with the people who are different from me the way everyone else there does: by screaming at them in offensive pseudo-Spanish and threatening to have them deported when they forget to dust the baby.) the more I feel like somebody would really have to try to get something out of this class that they didn’t already know or couldn’t have figured out on their own.
The textbook and assignments stress the importance of communicating well to avoid misunderstandings or offense, but I don’t really buy that. Misunderstandings are unavoidable, and no amount of effective communication will prevent them. Here at work I’m the unofficial communicator for my department. When we need to train HR managers on processes or send emails or write up training modules and walk-throughs, I’m always the one assigned these tasks. Why? Because I’m good at conveying information clearly and foreseeing (and thereby eliminating) possible issues that could arise due to differences in software, for example. (We use Office 2003 in Admin, half of the company uses Office 2010, and at least one of our HR people uses Open Office, and we’re running XP while all our new employees get Windows 7, and some people use Vista, and still others are running Macs… It’s not even a nightmare. You get to wake up from nightmares.) My boss proofreads everything before I send it out, and I’ve gotten nothing but excellent reviews on training calls. And guess what? People still misunderstand my instructions, either because they don’t read them all, or because they don’t follow the steps I created, or because they’re just not very good at their job, or… There are a million other reasons. My point is that effective communication doesn’t stop some people from just being lazy idiots or stupid jerks. I could suck at what I do for a living and I’d have the same amount of people calling me and emailing me everyday asking questions like, “What do you mean in step four when you say Hit Enter?”
And when it comes to offense, my opinion (OF COURSE I have an opinion) is that people cause offense in two ways: accidentally and on purpose. If it’s accidental, it’s usually pretty obvious that there’s no malice behind it. A simple, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” usually clears things up. People who cause offense on purpose do it on purpose. When I act like an asshole, trust me, I know I’m acting like an asshole, and I’d venture to guess the same can be said of most people. The problem there has nothing to do with ineffective communication. Hell, if we hadn’t had to take a communications course in high school and college we might not have been able to cause offense so clearly and effectively, so maybe communication is the weapon. Way to shit the bed, communication. Why do you hate the world?
Anyway, the whole subject seems self-serving and pretty useless to me. And I’m starting to think I’d rather take a class on eating or sleeping. At least the practical assignments would be more fun.