Beware of what you think you know, for it could be what you don’t know.

I have an acquaintance who speaks with a heavy lisp and the other day, he said to me: I am ‘thick’.

I ignorantly, finding it surprisingly and truly funny, burst out laughing.

He couldn’t understand what was funny about what he said that I was laughing at. He asked, and I candidly told him that I found what he said funny.

Looking visibly surprised and disappointed by my reaction, he softly but emphatically asked: you find it funny that I am ‘thick’?

I, naively replied, yes. I further told him that I truly find it not only funny but shocking that he thinks he’s ‘thick’ because, based on our interactions, there’s no evidence to suggest and therefore support that he’s ‘thick’ and for that reason, I don’t believe what he thinks of himself. I don’t understand where you get that [such] thought or what motivates you to think so. I added.

While I talked, he listened intently and after I had finished talking, he was silent for what seemed longer than what one would expect for anyone to come up with a response especially in such seemingly casual conversation. Breaking his ‘long’ silence, he went on to say, I feel ‘thad’, by which he meant to say ‘sad’, about your [my] reaction and attitude.

It is at this point, it hit me that the fine, soft spoken gentleman just might have a lisp, a heavy one at that and I quickly asked whether he is sick and whether that’s what he meant. He disappointedly said, yes!

To cut the short story even shorter; what he meant is that he is sick and not thick, as I wrongly understood what he said.

Moral of the story: beware of what you think you know, for it could be what you don’t know. And what you don’t know can surely break you or even get you in trouble, as it nearly got me in trouble with my acquaintance.

I resolved there and then to always ask people [to clarify] what they mean, preferably with some concrete examples, some demonstration – especially if it seems to contradict or even contravene my assumption and limited knowledge [common sense] – and never assume based largely on my own ignorance, limited knowledge and understanding that I understand or know what the other person, others are saying or telling me, upon which I make my own conclusions.

It is true that sometimes some things are not always what we think they are, what we think them to be or what they look on the outset and what they sound to be.

I also learned, as narrated, that not everyone who says that they are ‘thick’, are actually thick.

They might just have a speech impairment that renders it difficult to properly articulate and differentiate between sick and thick as the premise of this story clearly demonstrates.

They might also be [too] sick to properly articulate sick and therefore ‘thick’ is what they can do best, under such difficult circumstances.

I also learned that, communication is truly both collaborative and elaborative and that it goes both ways, it is a two-way street, between the communicator and the communicator’s audience – those being communicated to.

That the onus is not only on the communicator to ensure that the message is understood by their audience but also equally on the audience to ensure that they understand the message their communicator is trying to communicate to them.

As communicators, we must be conscious of how we communicate and ensure that we are clearly, properly and adequately understood by our audience. Likewise, as those at the receiving end – the audience – of the communication, it is incumbent upon us to make sure we understand what the other person is or others are communicating to us, the message they are communicating.

It is not always the duty and responsibility of the communicator alone to ensure they are understood. It is also equally the responsibility of the audience, the person being communicated to, to ensure they understand what the communicator is communicating – the message communicated.

Now that I think of it, I am really sick because I feel I was thick about the entire incident.