23 September 2011

A failure to communicate

In the 1967 movie “Cool Hand Luke” there is an unforgettable line that was used twice, once by the prison captain (played by Strother Martin), and once by Cool Hand Luke (played by Paul Newman). The line is:

What we got here is a failure to communicate!

Based upon some reading that I have been doing lately I discovered that I may have a failure in communication with myself…not my present self, but my future self. The theory goes that your present persona is not exactly the same as your future persona and may not be operating under the same set of circumstances. The emotional state, physical state, and environmental conditions surrounding your present self may be completely different from that of your future self. So how is it possible that our present self can communicate successfully with our future self?

I remember that when I was a little boy we actually did communicate successfully with our future selves through the U.S. mail, albeit that it was only one-way. Each spring at the end of the school year the Dominican nuns who taught at our school would require that we bring two unused “penny” postcards to school. In those days it only cost three cents to mail a letter and one cent to mail a postcard. The plain prepaid postcards were a manila color and they already had a one cent postage stamp printed on them. We would address these postcards to ourselves and on one of them we would remind ourselves to go to mass on the Feast of the Assumption on August 15th because it is a Catholic holy day of obligation…one of those days which the Church tells us we must celebrate in order to meet the minimum level of commitment to the Catholic faith. The Second postcard was to remind us of the date when school started up again after summer vacation. The nuns would mail the postcards a couple of days ahead of the target date and we would in this way notify our future selves of the event. A typical postcard from my present self to my future self would go something like this:

Dear Bobby,

Don’t forget that August 15th is the Feast of the assumption and you m
ust go to mass because it is a holy day of obligation. I hope that you are having a wonderful summer vacation.

Your friend,


Of course we forgot all about these postcards during the course of summer vacation and when they arrived in the mail it was a nice surprise. I always felt a little sad, however, that I couldn’t write back to my friend because he (me) was no longer there.

My solution to this inability to communicate effectively with my former self is to form a committee of present and former selves to impress upon my future self the course that we have collectively charted. Many of the decisions that we make regarding plans for our future are impulsive if not compulsive and are based upon the emotion, circumstance, or environment of the present. I guess that’s why some people say that you should “sleep on it” before you commit to a definite decision about anything.

I am going to try an experiment. Whenever I decide to make a commitment to do something I will start a log and record my present thoughts and feelings about the subject. Then I will wait a day or two and revisit the subject and note whether or not my new “present thoughts” coincide with my original “present thoughts” and make whatever adjustments necessary. After a few more of these exercises if I still believe that the commitment is worthwhile and desirable then my present self along with my committee of former selves will agree to commence. Every week or so thereafter I will call a meeting and review the log to see if the present results agree with former expectations and if not, an adjustment will be made. If at some point the thoughts of the present and former selves seem to indicate that the pursuit should be abandoned, the review process will continue for another week or so to see if the “committee” is still in agreement. In this way my future self cannot complain that the original commitment was not his but was something imposed upon him by my former self because in actuality he was with me every step of the way and hopefully…we will have no failure to communicate.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.