The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings and manuscripts in its collections. Surely, it devotes miles of shelves, warehouses of space and bazillions of terabytes preserving works about writing, speaking, listening, advertising and . . . Well, you fill in the blank. This alone attests to the importance of communication.
The Library of Congress started small, as most things do. In like sense, my awareness of effective communication began with a basic notion - periods and dashes.
The concept is simple: Some people, speak, hear and think with periods and others with dashes. Period people are literal communicators. They say precisely what they mean with periods at the end of complete sentences. Dash people speak more conceptually, assuming that other people can fill in the gaps. They seem to speak with dashes at the ends of their sentences.
Neither form of communication is better than the other. They are just different.
I am a period person (even though I have learned to play nicely with other members of the punctuation family). Knowing my preference for literal language has taught me to ask questions to fill in the gaps when I am interacting with a dash person. It has also made me aware of how my words can be interpreted in ways I don't intend. My journey toward communicating effectively began with this self-knowledge.
The Library of Confress was established in 1800 with the strict mandate to be a legislative library. The British burned most of the collection in 1814. When it was reborn, Congress expanded it to include books of philosophy, science, and literature - subjects well outside the "typical" legislative library.
Each of us faces the fires of miscommunication. We can let them reduce or even destroy us. Or, like Congress, we can allow the flames to redefine us. We can move beyond our "typical" selves to embrace a broader body of knowledge -- age, gender, nationality and personality - that will make us more effective communicators.
The Library of Congress has become one of the most renowned libraries in the world. As we grow into more effective communicators, we will have a positive impact in our own sphere of influence.