I believe that there exists an unwritten universal language that we all share. This language defies borders, politics, and status, to be used by all humans, at any time. The characters used in this language aren’t words or letters, but instead are replaced by physical gestures. Using this language to communicate not only improves connections between people, but strengthens world cultures through learning and experience.
This past October I had the privilege of working at an amazing leadership camp in Beijing called CASC China. This camp lasted for around four days in the heart of Beijing at the New Talent Academy, a gigantic international school. During our team’s final five hours in Beijing, we decided to visit the famous Pearl Markets where anyone can find exquisite items from rip-off Michael Kors handbags to fake Adidas shoes. After a full day of asking, “How much does this cost” in terrible Mandarin, we all met up at the entrance to grab a cab home. However, we realized too late that before we entered the markets, we forgot to establish who would provide the money for the taxi home. After pooling all of our money and trying to sell back some of the stuff we had bought, we came out with a whopping 26 RMB (about four dollars equivalent), which we would have to use for a 50+ RMB taxi ride.
We ran outside, our arms heavy with knick-knacks and doo-dads we regretted buying, and desperately tried hailing a taxi. It took so long for a taxi to come pick us up that we were more worried about getting to our flight on-time than getting back to our hotel. The taxi finally picked us up, set the pay meter (which, to our disgust, started at 13 RMB and went up 3 RMB per kilometer) on and took off. As the 26 RMB number approached, I tried to use Google translate to say, “Hey! We can’t pay you! Leave us here!”, but nothing worked. I took out the money from my pocket and frantically pointed at it and at the meter. I counted the money in front of him and, like an overenthusiastic mime, tried to gesture our story of how we bought too much and only had this much left. At last, he finally understood, and stopped the car in the middle of the highway when the meter hit 26 RMB, accepted the cash, and left us to walk to the school.
When the taxi dropped us off on the freeway, I had two things on my mind: hoping that the enraged tut-tut drivers would swerve around us while we were trying to get to the sidewalk, and how I just told a man about my entire day without even opening my mouth. I decided to test this out more and more, and I found that there actually is a language in which we only use common knowledge. On the long jog back to the hotel I stopped multiple times to ask for some directions from some locals. When I failed at trying to slur out some Chinese words, I would resort to miming out my question and effectively got directions to where we needed to go.
In today’s society we constantly rely on our own technology to help us communicate with each other, whether it be in person, or across the world. But when technology fails for you like it did for me when talking to the taxi driver, what will you do? I discovered that each one of us already come equipped with the bare necessities used to communicate, with each other: our own body and creativity. Like I learned, we can all communicate without having studied countless hours on grammar and syntax from a language we won’t be able to use until we travel to a different part of the world. If people concentrate on finding means of communication that don’t need to be spoken, than we can avoid all conflict around miscommunication.