Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sign Language

On my commute to my job in the big city I have several opportunities to practice my “sign language” each week.  I suppose that most people who commute to work have the same opportunity . . . in fact; I know that they do because I have been the recipient of lots of that sign language . . . at least the universal signs that signify displeasure and disgust.  Other drivers seem to have that effect on all of us on the road.

During the summer between eighth grade and my freshman year I worked at the Colorado Lions Camp for the Deaf and Blind.  One of the requirements of working at the camp I had to learn sign language . . . American Sign Language in particular.  And, I did.  It was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment to be able to communicate with another using something other than one’s voice . . . especially when that communication was understood and acknowledged.

Throughout my schooling I had difficulty learning a second language.  I tried both Spanish and French.  I failed miserably at both . . . yet, I did well with sign language.  Yet, sign language is not considered a “real” language, thus I have never been considered to be bilingual.  Now that I am older I understand how much of a fallacy that was and is.

The point is communication.  To be able to convey a message and have it understood is the whole point of communication whether it is verbal or visual.  In fact, I would venture out to say that a whole lot of communication is done through non-verbal means—such as sign language.  Trust me, lots of people send messages without ever uttering a word.

Tootling down the road fifteen miles under the posted speed limit creates a lot of visual communication . . . a lot of sign language.  Mostly it creates the sort that often gets mistaken for “We’re Number One” . . . or “good luck” in Hawaiian (Look up the U.S.S. Pueblo incident from 1970 to understand that reference.) . . . but most of us know as “the finger”.  It is a powerful non-verbal form of communication that often is returned with as much enthusiasm as it is given.

One of my favorite non-verbal and visual forms of communicating is “rolling my eyes”.  The rolling of the eyes is usually produced whenever a person is in the presence of another who goes on and on and on about some trivial or outlandish accomplishment . . . or is giving instructions and orders that are simply ridiculous . . . or preaching a sermon on Sunday morning.  Rolling the eyes is a powerful statement of disbelief or “boy are you wasting my time!”  It is such a powerful statement that it has been outlawed at the big university where I work . . . rolling of the eyes is not tolerated.  Of course, those of us who use this powerful form of communication just rolled our eyes when we heard the announcement.

Of course there are those visual signs that sports fans use to acknowledge their teams . . . especially in college football.  Oregon State has that big “O” sign signifying their loyalty to the Beavers . . . the University of California at Irvine, home of the Anteaters, has a cool sign that sort of looks like a rabid University of Texas Longhorn . . . Texas Tech has the “six shooter” with both hands . . . Texas Christian University has two-finger symbol that looks like the signer is about to scratch someone’s eyes out . . . Kansas State has a neat one in which they form a “W” and “C” (Wildcats) with their fingers . . . Florida University, the “Gators”, have the two-arm chomping sign representing an alligator . . . Florida State has the politically incorrect, yet wildly popular, “tommy hawk” . . . Baylor has the “bear claw” . . . and, the University of Oklahoma, archrivals of the University of Texas, has the reverse “Hook’em Horn” that means “tuck Fexas”.  Upon seeing these signs fellow supporters know exactly which team is being cheered on.  As a University of Nebraska fan I am not really sure what the hand sign is for the Cornhuskers . . . I don’t know if anyone has come up with a corn cob sign yet . . . but I do know that the fans in the stands like to cross their arms across their chest to represent the Huskers “Black Shirt” defense which uses a skull and cross bone to represent themselves.  All I know is that the big white “N” on the side of their helmets means “Knowledge”.

Of course I am of the generation that doesn’t quite understand a lot of the “sign language” that is being used by younger generations.  Lots of musical groups that were never around when I was growing up use a lot of “sign language” . . . mostly gang signs I am told.  Basically looks like a lot of mangled fingers, but my children tell me that they represent something to those who are doing them.  I just want to take them to the closest emergency room and get them some help.  Other times I want to wish them “good luck” in Hawaiian. 

The point is that there is more than one way to “communicate” other than being verbal.  Body language is a big one.  One that took me a long time to understand was the fact that those people in the pews who were nodding their heads were not agreeing with what I was saying . . . nope, they were falling asleep.  Nor were they praying even though they would mutter “Amen” when they finally held their heads up.  Sleeping is a pretty solid message to a person who is speaking that he or she is BORING.

Like my father before me, I was a master of non-verbal communication with my children.  Rarely did I have to say anything to get a point across to my children.  If they were acting up, embarrassing their mother and I, a simple glare would convey the message: “Just wait until we get home!”  If they were being ridiculous . . . a roll of the eyes.  And, if they were really irritating me a slow slash with the hand across the neck would get their attention.  Without speaking a word my children grew up understanding what I was saying loud and clear.

Driving down the road does not afford one the luxury of face-to-face verbal communication . . . after all, blowing by someone does not allow one to roll down the window and have a conversation about one’s driving skills.  That is simply dangerous, but messages must be shared.  The safest and easiest way has become “sign language”, most notably the “one finer salute”.  But I have found that even the “one finger salute” is not much of a message with a lot of drivers . . . apparently they are used to it.  So, I have discovered that even with “sign language” sarcasm is possible.  Rarely do I use the “one finger salute” to express my displeasure . . . I have gone to the “thumbs up” sign when passing a slow moving vehicle.  It is kinder “sign” whether the other driver understands the sarcasm or not . . . at least it often receives a smile in return.  Oh well, I guess I can start carrying hand-written signs that are more to the point.  But, that is a lot of work and I would never get any driving done.  I will stick to “sign language” . . . that is a big “thumbs up!”  Communication is the key . . . after all, I love you.

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