The State of Wonder is the newest book by Ann Patchett. She is famous for her novel Bel Canto which helped me understand more about Opera within a setting of a terrorism attack. “I write about what I don’t know because I love doing research.” she announced when she spoke on 11/21/11 at the Drue Heinz lectures. Her new book is about communication relationship, effective communication, what is communication, good communicationthe wilds of South America and the setting is a search for fertility drugs.

At first I couldn’t figure out why the characters drove me a little bit crazy. After her lecture I understood, after she disclosed, “I write about the lack of communication between people.” I spend my life’s work helping people learn to say important things to each other. My worst relationships are with those I am frustrated in my attempts to communicate. The characters are people who spend much of the book silent to others, while only the reader knows.

It is of course our defensiveness & insecurities that contribute the most to contaminating our communication. So a lot of people quickly reach the conclusion, “Why bother?” This may explain the sociology survey of 2,000 adults from Cornell University that found the average number of friends to discuss important things with is down to 2 from 3 in 1985. Almost half listed only one friend, while 4% had none.

Risking communication is a very tricky business. Communication seems more illusive with every passing year.

Our government is paralyzed by two political parties that are unable to communicate. Some people say “I love you” for the first time or break up through text messaging. It is all too ordinary for someone to be upset & tell 3 or 4 other people but not the person involved.

One angry partner simply “blasts” their opinion and is unwilling to explore any possible disagreement from the other partner. A neighbor is upset & calls the cops instead of going next door to talk. A client disappears without telling the therapist what bothered them.

We are a culture of avoiding & deflecting disagreements. Someone smiles and swallows their real opinion & the distance grows another layer. Disagreement can add spice to a relationship and make it more interesting. It is only through the exploring of disagreement that we can learn to understand someone else.

Tolerating discomfort & being able to maintain your inner equilibrium while hearing hard things about yourself is a huge stepping stone to growing up. We can only learn more about ourselves from others. The courage to admit you are wrong, apologize & take responsibility matters because it’s how trust builds.

So if you are puzzled, confused, disturbed by, want more or are in love with someone else, risk the conversation.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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