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Babbel - In so Many Words

Aug 9, 2008
Whenever I find myself in trouble regarding the spelling or the exact meaning of a word I resort to my trusty Webster dictionary. I developed this habit a long time ago in the days when I had to write important reports and absolute accuracy was an essential prerequisite. In those days computers with spell check did not exist, nor did cell phones or any of the communication technology that are available to us in this era. A typewriter along with typing paper and carbon paper were the tools of the trade. I have a question for the younger generation, do you know what carbon paper is, and have you ever seen a sheet of the accursed item? If the answer is yes, good for you. If you haven't you may want to check it out and it will help you to understand the absolute wonder of a printer, a copier, and a fax machine. Let us move on to the real point in issue, accurate and timely communication.

There is no doubt that we attempt to communicate as accurately as possible and of course we are inclined to assume that the message or information was sent and received intact and without ambiguity. However I must tell you that this is not always true. Miscommunication is very inconvenient and in some situations it can become dangerous. Many years ago I received instructions to assemble a team and to quietly insert ourselves into a farming community some distance from the capital. Our orders were to find and arrest a suspect who was wanted for several murders and burglaries. The Assistant Commissioner made it clear that he must be captured alive if possible or dead if necessary, he was known to be armed and dangerous.

Shortly after our arrival, we received good information from a farmer who happened to be a victim, and acting on the tip we quietly surrounded a cottage on the outskirts of the village. According to the informant the suspect was in the habit of visiting a lady who lived alone in the cottage and he would usually arrive after midnight and leave before dawn. At around 10 p.m. the team was in position behind trees and brushes. The instructions were simple, watch and wait and close in before he entered the house.

Ten o'clock became midnight and then 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. and still nothing. Shortly after 4 a.m., the front door of the house was opened and standing there was our suspect. He had entered the house before we were in position. I made a quick decision not to make a move until he was away from the house, too far away to turn and run back. When I judged the time to be right I shouted to the team, "move in" and I sprinted toward him intent on bringing him down. I was almost there when I heard the sound of gunfire and I saw tracers whipping past my head and body. I hit the ground screaming, one of my team member was trying to shoot the suspect and almost shot me. The suspect took off like a bat out of hell, scaled the fence and disappeared in the brushes. We managed to corner him a week later in a sugar cane plantation and with the aid of a police dog named Butch. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to death.

A review of the episode revealed serious lapses in our planning along the way. My orders were, "shoot to kill if necessary." The officer who opened fire said that he did not hear, "if necessary." I made a serious, almost fatal, mistake when I took off after the suspect, I should have turned on my flashlight to indicate my position, and last but by no means least, I should have sent for Butch (the police dog). I survived the incident but I learned an important lesson, make sure that everyone understands what is required in detail and follow through or rehearse when necessary.

Misunderstandings and mixed messages are the bane of the human society and this condition is made worse by the fact that we do not speak the same language. Try to imagine the suspicion and fear when two potential antagonists confront each other and begin in to babbel.
About the Author
Bernard Steele is a veteran law enforcement officer (operational and administrative), now retired. He was the former chief security officer of the National Banking System of Guyana S.A. To learn about his new book visit Death in Small Doses.
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