A year back, I took a trip to Spain with my family. It was our first time there and we spent our time in the Andalucia portion of Spain — Granada, Sevilla, Cordoba, Ronda — which is an area marked with the history of the Moors and the beginnings of a united Spanish kingdom. I have a number of stories I can share, but two stand out more than the others.
Our first visit was to Granada, the last Moorish kingdom in Spain that ultimately surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 (the same king and queen who sent Columbus off that year). The second night we were there, we decided to go to a highly recommended restaurant. Despite the fact that every one told us that we could get by in Spain without speaking Spanish, we discovered quickly that no one told the waiter at the restaurant about this. We fumbled our way through the menu and I asked the waiter to select my dinner for me, which he did. Shortly, we received a bowl of bread and a porcelain dish covered with a lid that had a hole in the center and containing some sort of liquid. I asked my wife what she thought the liquid was and she said that it was olive oil. Eager to try the Spanish olive oil, I poured some on my dish, dipped my bread in it and took a bite. It was watery and didn’t taste at all like any olive oil I knew. I told her it must be some type of water and she shrugged her shoulders. Then the waiter brought out my first course, which was a plate of about ten anchovies. I am not a big anchovy fan; in fact I would rather eat the sole of my shoe than an anchovy. However, I had asked for the waiter’s recommendation and I was not going to disappoint him and I resolutely ate every one of those anchovies, much to my childrens’ delight.
I later looked around at another table where a couple sat smoking and I saw that the dish that held what my wife had thought was olive oil was actually an ashtray and I turned an olive shade of green as I pointed this out to my family, who immediately fell over howling at the fact that I had dipped my bread into ashwater.
I learned a couple of facts: 1) I exist only for the entertainment of my family; 2) not being able to communicate effectively can cause embarrassment if not physical or psychic harm. I’m tempted to add a third fact — Believing your wife can lead to physical harm — if not for the fact that actually stating that can cause one’s wife to reach for the proverbial rolling pin and therefore cause physical harm in and of itself.
When I begin merging acquired businesses a few years ago, someone told me that each of the operations would be like different countries, with their own languages, and just because I said something would not been it would be understood the same way and that when I was told something, I may not understand exactly what was being said. That has proven to be true and the organization has fumbled at times trying to understand each other over the past few years. I believe things have improved a lot since then, but it is critical to recognize the importance of communication — of listening and being understood — if an organization, or any relationship, is to truly succeed.
The second story of my trip has to do with the tour of the Alhambra — or the palace of the Moors (and later the Christians) — in Granada. As we were walking through, I noticed that on certain ceilings was the inscription, “Plus Oultre”. The tour guide mentioned that it was the Spanish motto, meaning “Always further”. It seems to me an appropriate motto in this challenging year. Perhaps now, more than ever, we have to push beyond the boundaries of our fears and our own sense of limitations to reach out to each other, find common language, share our words and, most importantly, listen. It is then that we realize that the countries that separate each of us are only of our own making.