Wednesday, January 03, 2018

How Long Is A Generation? Let's Be Careful About Words We Use

Communication between two human beings is hard enough, even when they use the same words to mean the same thing.  But when people use words 'creatively' with meanings that don't match the commonly understood meanings, it gets even harder to understand each other.

From today's Anchorage Daily News story on the death of the Alaska zoo's polar bear Ahpun,
"'She’s been a favorite here for generations of people,' Lampi said Tuesday." 
Generations of people?

But the bear was only 20 years old.  

How long is a generation?  Greg Laden's Blog tells us:
Short Answer: 25 years, but a generation ago it was 20 years.
Long answer: It depends on what you mean by generation.

He goes on to explain biological, generational, and cultural, social generations.  

Now, Lampi may have meant that children, their parents, and grandparents all visited the zoo together, and technically that would be three generations together seeing Ahpun.

But normally 'for generations' means something has gone on across many generations.  Two generations by Laden's count (and I checked others who give the same response) would be 40-50 years.  Which would have made Ahpun a pretty old bear.  Seaworld's website says the oldest polar bear in captivity lived 45 years.

Does it matter?  Words are tools for communication.   And poor communications contribute to most problems humans face in the world.  From the University of Colorado Conflict Research Consortium:
"Almost all conflicts involve communication problems, as both a cause and an effect. Misunderstandings, resulting from poor communication, can easily cause a conflict or make it worse. Further, once a conflict has started, communication problems often develop because people in conflict do not communicate with each other as frequently, as openly, and as accurately as they do when relationships are not strained. Thus communication is central to most conflict situations. . .

Speakers often are not clear themselves about what they mean, which almost assures that what they say will be unclear as well. Even when people know what they mean, they often do not say it as clearly as they should. . . "
Lots of little things combine to create big problems.  

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