Photo by Gaelle Marcel

The word communication is derived from the Latin word, communicare, which means “to share.”

Communication is one of those words we use all the time, probably think about frequently, and maybe even discuss periodically. However, do most of us really understand communication?

I decided it made sense that I ponder the definition of communication before diving into a blog series on how different organisms use their voices. Voices will be a term that I apply broadly to organisms’ means of communication, means which are as diverse as biodiversity itself. Not surprisingly, the definitions of communication are varied, and mostly human-centric. One that resonated from me is from Wikipedia (I
swear I didn’t go there first…): the act of conveying meanings from one entity or group to another through the use of mutually understood signs, symbols, and semiotic rules. Dr. Friedrich S. Rothschild coined the term biosemiotic communication in 1962 as the signs and symbols that are exchanged in the biological realm. When you scale back to think about communication in that broad of a context, it really reveals how verbal communication with words is a serious rarity rather than the norm. And, if we limit ourselves to only understanding human-issued verbal communication, we really are going to miss out on so much of what the world is chattering about. Bummer.

We all communicate, constantly. Even when we are not saying words, we are communicating with our physical expressions. Or even when we have the good ole poker face, we are still communicating with the energy we emit. My friends may think I am nuts, but I am able to communicate seamlessly with my deaf cat! I think it is both fascinating and sometimes problematic that the humans can speak so much while relaying so little. I am sure we have each observed people communicating with words while not saying anything at all or saying something completely different than what they are literally verbalizing.

I honestly believe that miscommunication is the basis of much of our misalignment in the world. We say the wrong thing, and it hurts someone we love. We need help, but we ask with our eyes, while uttering “I’m fine.” It is easy for the listener to miss the non-verbal communication and not realize that, in all actuality, things are not fine.

I think this same sort of miscommunication with Earth is happening. We are listening to words – resources are still available, a planet is still producing, we are still breathing. If we pause, and really look, we see a lot of injury and destruction; we see a lot of not-fine-at-all if we look Earth in the eyes. Right now, I can even hear you saying – what are you talking about?! The planet does not have eyes, nor can it talk, not any more than your deaf cat. What I am suggesting is that we all make a conscience effort to be present and observant in our environments. This planet has health indicators that ecologists read, just like human doctors look at our skin tone or body temperature to indicate our health. The good news is that you do not have to be a doctor of any kind to see health indicators; you can look, you can listen. Listen to the silence where the flowing stream used to bubble, and the frogs used to call. Listen to your loved one when they say their day was just fine. If you open your heart and mind to being present, and listening, it is amazing the things you start to hear, see, and feel. This, to me, is communication, the basis of relationships. When we truly start to listen, the connections become more apparent, and not just your connections with your human conspecifics, but your connections with the tree dropping its leaves in the temperate zone, the not-so-distantly related primate making an alarm call to his troop about a stalking jaguar. When connections emerge, artificial divisions and insignificant differences begin
to dissolve, and our voice can become a contributing rather than a conflicting utterance in the cacophony of nature. After all, we were made as part of nature. We are voices of nature. We can be voices for nature.

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