I cannot hear what you say for the thunder of what you are – Zulu Proverb
This quote really grabbed my attention. Maybe because it is a Zulu proverb I imagine a wildly dressed tribe, with a traveller coming to meet the chief and the Chief sizing him up. I guess this is similar to the adage that you have to sell yourself in order to sell your product.
So why would we need to sell ourselves, or why does it matter that what we are speaks thunderously to others? We are bombardd witih information every second of our lives and the brain needs to make sense of it so we generalise to a degree unfortunately, which can prove wrong and trip us up quite often. ‘ASSUME makes and ASS out of U and ME’ is a popular saying. But let’s forgive ourselves. We have to go by gut instinct and hunches much of the time or our lives would be spent in often needless clarification.
So this Zulu warrior, let’s say (don’t you always hear about Zulu warriors, not Zulu mums or accountants) arrives at a village and all gather round. He has different attire to everyone else which clearly makrs him as being from a different tribe, perhaps one they like or don’t like. They have judged him perhaps as friend or foe. He will be treated accordingly, with welcome or distrust. But who is to say what this man really is? They are going by the assumption that if he is from this other tribe, he is likely to treat them in a certain way also. This man may be there for completely different reasons. He may have abandoned his tribe and wants to join this one because he no longer fits in. He cannot change his clothes or his hairstyle because he has nothing else. He is trying to state his case to the people hearing him, however the thunder of his attire is speaking more loudly than his words.
Apparently words only account for only 7% of what is understood by others. The rest is made up of tone of voice and mostly body language. This is why electronic communication can cause a lot of headaches, and emoticons and smiley faces are gaining in popularity and use, even at work. This poor chap only knows the tone of voice and accent common to his people but hopefully this crosses boundaries, being from the same country and all. His hand movements hopefully also are understood by the tribe he wants to hear him. Finally there is facial expression which is luckily often universal. A smile is a smile is a smile. If your outward appearance belies what you feel inside, your facial expression tells all even if you don’t always want it to. The body does not lie I have heard. If we are embarassed we may blush whether we want to or not. This does not apply to everyone but it can be hard to cover up many of the things we do. There is a whole detective TV series in America based around this fact; that other peole can tell when we are lying. We scratch our nose at an inappropriate moment, look in the wrong direction or mumble. People can learn to read the exact signals of those close to them. You have to be careful with the old assumptioins again though. Use your information as a marker only, not as an absolute truth.
So back to the quote. I cannot hear what you say – perhaps cannot is too strong a word for it. Hang on to your 7%. ‘for the thunder of what you are’. Thunder is noisy, incredibly loud if you are very close to it and the clouds smack together particularly forcefully. It drowns all else out and is heard within a large area and by all those who are in it, at the same time. Often it startles us. This is a great analogy and probably the reason I like this quote so much. How powerful to deduce from this that ‘what I am is thunder’.
We are all a bunch of DNA and we are affected also by nurture. ‘What we are’ can manifest in a myriad of ways. What we wear, eat, our body, our walk, our speech, eye contact. Actually I will linger there because eye contact and what it is appropriate does differ between countries. Now I think of it, various forms of body language do vary in meaning between cultures. Be warned that in some countries it is rude to piont with your foot, just in case it seemed like a good idea when your hands were otherwise taken. In Scandinavia eye contact is more widely used than in England and this trips us up if we assume that we are essentially completely like all caucasions worldwide.
So how do we get others to hear what we say? How do they get our message? Perhaps the only thing you can truly count on is a smile.
And when we encounter someone new, notice how we have snap judgements about what we think the other person is. Examine your filter. The person with really short hair may be recovering from cancer or they may eschew the trappings of the western ‘Crowning glory’. Try to hear who they are, not what they are.
I heard of someone who was adopted having extremely distinctive taste and she became interested in some obscure group, with out there clothing and she joined them. It later turned out that her real parents were part of this same group and the adoptee was only being who she was born to be. There was no outside influence at all, in fact incomprehension on the part of her adopted parents. You also hear stories of twins and triplets separated at birth for scientific experiments to prove the influence of nurture over nature. Nature won out. The coincidences were striking. Unfortunately these people were never told of their siblings and many have only comes to find them by accident, not unlike the movies made with Hayley mills and Lindsay lohan. This scenario is not fiction, it’s true!!
Anyway, I digress. My conclusion from thinking about this statement is that people are indeed apt to judge what we are from our outward appearance and all the clues we give them, wittingly or otherwise. Piercings, tatoos, grey hair, bodybuilding muscles, plastic surgery, mohawk hair, posture etc etc. We have so many choices – where we live, what we eat, how we dress, stand, adorn our bodies, exercise our bodies, how we spend our spare time, our interests, music, choice of TV shows. All these signal outwardly what is going on inwardly. Some want to be liked, others want to be feared, admired, looked up to, loved. We may or may not care about what we believe another thinks of us, or how they treat us but we can have a guess at what our appearance will say to them. We dress differently for a ball than for a barbecue. It is a given that others will judge based on the clues we give. I particularly enjoy dressing up to look really silly and make others smile, because of my beliefs. Others would rather shoot themselves. I may not always wear reindeer antlers and will dress differently for work but that is all part of doing what I have learned, what is accepted, the signals for my culture of what and how to act. In certain situations I may cover up who I am, tone my enthusiasm down and look serious when I actually want to laugh. But I hope that what I actually am is conveyed by the glint in my eye.
What we are changes with each moment and we will dress accordinly to reflect our inner world. Sales of black and grey clothing increased aftr 911. People wear more black in Winter or in London I believe. As long as there is this set of rules to live by, people will indeed hear only the thunder of what we are. It is shorthand.
So when can we really be what we are? Truly be ourselves? We are so diverse that people can probably not guess that we have an unusal hobby or keep snakes or regularly visit the elderly.
In conclusion I guess that although I believe this quote to be true, I find it a little sad that it is so. I would like to go forward and learn to drop judgements and listen to what people are saying instead. I will look into their eyes instead for who they are, not what they are. Smile!!