lessons learned: The Stonewall Jackson Lesson

Learn the importance of making yourself clear through these accounts.

lessons learned
The Stonewall Jackson Lesson
Learn the importance of making yourself clear through these accounts.
Jack Runninger, O.D.

I've often heard that "Travel is broadening" and I find the statement true. Every time I travel to an elder hostel, I broaden by about five pounds.

However, I must admit that my mind is also broadened at these sessions, although mostly with information that is probably useless. For example, I recently attended an elder hostel (as I've explained in earlier columns, elder hostels are kind of like kindergartens for old folks) at Natural Bridge, Va. The course of study was Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.


"General Jackson got his nickname from another general during an early civil war battle," our instructor said. "During the battle, he said, 'There stands General Jackson with his troops atop the hill like a stonewall.'"

The question arises: Did he mean that Jackson stood there heroically refusing to give way to approaching enemy troops? Or did he mean, "Instead of staying up there immobile like a stonewall, why doesn't he move his butt down here to help us?" The general died in battle before anyone could ask him which message he meant.

Jefferson's bridge and Texas oil

Even when you make certain the message you're transmitting is clear, some folks just don't pay sufficient attention to understand.

"Is it true that Thomas Jefferson threw a quarter over the Natural Bridge?" asked one character, at this same elder hostel. He had the story right except for saying Jefferson in place of Washington, the Natural Bridge instead of the Rappahannock River, and the wrong coin denomination as well.

It reminded me of a similar story about a man who said to a Texan, "I understand that you made a million dollars last year in oil. Is that true?"

"Almost," replied the Texan. "It was in the stock market, not in oil. And it wasn't a million bucks, it was two million. And it wasn't me, it was my brother. And he didn't make it, he lost it. Otherwise the story is accurate."

Have I made myself clear?

I once heard a communications expert advise, "To make certain patients are paying attention and understand what you've told them, you should ask them the question, 'Have I made myself clear?' rather than 'Do you understand?'

"When you ask if they understand, they figure, 'If I admit that I don't, I'm going to look stupid, so I'll lie and say that I do.' When you ask, 'Have I made myself clear?', they are more likely to admit it when they haven't understood."

I wrote about this in a column a number of years ago. In response, an O.D. wrote to tell me that he had followed my advice.

He said, "After I had explained what her problem was to an elderly patient, I asked her, 'Have I made myself clear?' 'No,' she replied as she squinted at me. 'You're just as blurry as when I first came in.'"


Speaking of communicating, sometimes people's answers are better than the questions. In H. Allen Smith's autobiography he tells of a quote from Bill Arp, the Georgia humorist who was asked to summarize his career as a Confederate soldier:

"Well," said Arp. "I reckon I held my own. I killed about as many Yankees as they did of me."