I often have stomach problems when I eat certain types of food, and I’ve finally started paying more attention to exactly which foods cause the problems. (Yes, this is actually a post about communication, not poop.)
Last night I ate pizza and didn’t have any stomach problems afterward, so I said to Kyeli, “Pizza doesn’t cause it.” “Some kinds of pizza,” she clarified. I boggled for a moment, realized that we must have miscommunicated, figured out the miscommunication, and then launched into an impassioned tirade about quantifier scoping as Kyeli’s eyes completely glazed over.
I’ll spare you the gory first-order logic details, but I do want to talk about the miscommunication.
When I said “Pizza doesn’t cause it”, what I meant was that I have a list of potential causes in my head, like this:
- Spicy food
- Chips & Salsa
- Indian food
- Domino’s Pizza
- Tony’s frozen pizzas
and I’ve been putting mental checkmarks or X’s next to each one as I figure out whether it causes tummy badness. When I said “Pizza doesn’t cause it”, I meant that I was putting an X next to “Pizza” on my list. I wasn’t putting an X next to “Domino’s Pizza” or “Tony’s frozen pizzas” (which, in fact, have a checkmark next to them), I was only X-ing out “Pizza”. On my list, “Pizza” means “ALL pizza”, so I can now X out “Pizza” because I now have a counterexample to the “all pizza makes me sick” theory.
When Kyeli heard “Pizza doesn’t cause it”, she heard “No type of pizza causes it”, and she felt the need to clarify, because she thought I had overgeneralized.
This miscommunication happened to be about something random and not very important, and it was easy to fix. However, I can easily see something similar happening and causing an argument.
Example 1: Sue is thinking about why she’s unhappy in her life. Sue says out loud, “It’s not because of my friends.” She might mean that her friends in general aren’t making her unhappy, but maybe one or two of her friends in particular still are. Or Sue might mean that none of her friends contribute to the problem in any way.
Example 2: Devi says, “I don’t like fish.” Her friend Maartje is later surprised to see Devi eating salmon. Devi clarifies, “Oh, I meant that I don’t like most kinds of fish. Salmon is an exception.” Maartje says, “But you said you don’t like fish. I thought you meant that you don’t like fish. At all. Any kind of fish. If I had known you meant most fish, I wouldn’t have thrown away that HUGE-ASS SALMON I bought for your birthday!”
Example 3: Kyeli says, “I’m not attracted to men.” I’ll stop there before I get in trouble. (;
Which type are you, a Most-enator or an All-ifier? If you heard “I don’t like fish”, how would you interpret it?
- The Most-enator hears: “I don’t generally like fish. (But maybe there are exceptions.)”
- The All-ifier hears: “I don’t like any kind of fish. (Not in the rain, not on a train.)”
Are you a Most-enator or an All-ifier? Let us know in the comments!