Several years ago while I was visiting Hong Kong, I came across a beautiful lake with a ‘No Fishing’ sign.
It had a picture of a fishing pole with a hook and then a large red diagonal line through it. I’m sure we’ve all seen these types of signs – ‘No Smoking’, ‘No Cellphones’, ‘No Soliciting Unless You Are Selling Girl Scout Cookies’…
Well apparently the red-lined fishing pole sign alone was not enough to stop people from fishing. Next to this sign was another one that had a picture of a person throwing a net into the water similarly marked up in red. Evidently saying ‘No Fishing’ was not enough. You needed to ALSO say ‘No catching fish with a net’.
Hmmm, interesting! I thought, ‘Well, I guess some clarification was needed.’ A lot of clarification! Adjacent to this second sign was a third posting with a stick of dynamite on it. It also had the signature red line through it.
OK, we’ve established that you can’t catch your fish with a hook. You can’t catch your fish with a net either. Seemingly, some uber clever yet slightly maniacal resident had thought blowing fish out of the water was an option.
Did I mention there was a fourth sign? And a fifth? And a sixth one…
You can’t electrocute fish.
You can’t vacuum them up.
You can’t poison them.
You can’t spear or harpoon them.
You can’t grab them with your hands, and you can’t shoot them.
All of these methods for exacting fish from the water had their own red lined signs depicting these forbidden techniques.
But this bevy of signs still weren’t enough because right along the riverbank, there was another inventive, smooth-talking local attempting to verbally coax a fish into jumping out of the water and into his bucket. My guess was within the week, there would be a new sign posted of a mouth with a line through it posted alongside the others to deter ‘fish whispering’.
In the end, the sign should have just been, “Don’t take fish out of the water.” I am not entirely sure what that would look like but from the intent of the cluster of signs, I think this one sign would have done it if they could have come up with a picture that correctly communicated that message.
Needless to say, this little sightseeing adventure was both amusing and relatable. I came to realize that I struggle with putting up the correct sign all the time. I often offer up pieces of information that I believe are crystal clear, but nonetheless others sometimes struggle to get my true intentions.
I always have a sharp picture in my mind of what I want. I always know what the end game is. The problem is sometimes others feel like I am piecemealing my way to the end product because each of my signs tells a part of my intention, but in many cases they are not enough. My messages are always clear-cut to me but the people around me don’t always interpret them as I do, which I then run the risk of disheartening those around me and overall it can lead to a general frustration on both sides.
This is something I am trying to be distinctly aware of, and am trying to be more well-defined when I am “posting my signs”.
Dare I say that I am not alone in this specific shortcoming?
For example, I think about the volumes of information the government must provide for us research administrators to communicate what should be an easy topic. “You can’t do this” or “You should be doing this”.
Smart people, very smart people bat these regulations around and can very often land on different interpretations. Of course, the end result is that the government does not get what they want and research administrators with good intentions feel like they are falling short in doing their jobs. So really no one wins. This then leads to more specificity in the regulations and eventually you can lose the essential forest-for-the-trees notion and things get so overly detailed that they become ambiguous.
So, how many more fish must die because ambiguity cannot be removed? How many rules will continue to be misconstrued because the perfect sign has not been hung?