Frequency Variations: What Is It That We’re Hearing?

As I understand it, “Doppler Shift” is a term used to explain minor alterations in frequency due to change in position, as evidenced in how we hear varying sounds from an ambulance or an airplane as it changes location relative to us. The sound being generated doesn’t change, but how we hear it changes because our relationship to the vehicle varies. This concept is far more complicated than a simple question of volume—the pitch and intensity of certain elements of the sound rise to the top of our awareness as the ambulance makes its journey towards and then past us. Since I live near a hospital, I get a lot of practice listening to emergency vehicles swoosh past with their sirens blaring.


So, too, can our perception and understanding of what another person is communicating shift as our relationship with that person changes. It’s not that they’re saying anything different, but we hear (and understand) it differently because of the shifting dynamics between the two of us. When one or the other (or both) of us varies our “position,” the Doppler Shift between us alters, too. Make sense?


I am using Doppler Shift as a way to examine elusive alterations in relationships. When it comes to long term associations, we often operate on the assumption that because we know the other person so well, how we understand them remains static. Because we are lazy, we settle in on a particular frequency and proceed as if all communications are sent out and received on this one setting. But the truth is, they’re not. It changes all the time—our position in the relationship continually shifts, whether we are cognizant of this or not.


Let me give an example to make my point more clear: say you’re at the gym on one of the cardio machines and there’s a person on the machine right next to you. You both have the tvs tuned to the same channel, only the timing of the signal and tint of the picture on your screen doesn’t exactly match that being shown on the other. Perhaps on your screen, the interviewer looks slightly orange and on the other person’s screen the tinge is more yellow. For most practical purposes, this is irrelevant. But, what if you both were trying to assess how healthy the person was? You’d come to different conclusions based on how your particular tv received the signal. Only one image is broadcast, but how you receive it differs. Does this make sense? Now, let’s say that you can’t see the other tv, but the two of you are both watching the same broadcast at the same time. When you go to discuss the health of the interviewer, the two of you believe you are assessing the same image, but you aren’t. Each of you is in a different relationship with the broadcast signal—which is where the Doppler Shift comes into play—and thus, takes in slightly different information.


God, this is getting painful. Why is this important?


It’s important because problems often arise when two people use the same vocabulary about a situation, but the vocabulary means slightly different things to each person. How we use it and how we hear it differs, but because it’s the same general word, we think we understand what they’re saying, when we don’t. And because we think we know, it doesn’t occur to us to check for clarification. For instance, let’s say two people tell each other, “I don’t want to get married.” Yet, one person means, I don’t want to get married to you, while the other means marriage isn’t right for me. Big, big difference! And yet, they’ve made identical statements, so the understandable tendency is to believe they’re in agreement. This could lead to a lot of unhappiness and misunderstanding down the line. The same holds true for other types of communication. For instance, when I say the word “ok,” it signals (to me) that I’m ready to negotiate, but someone else heard it as a patronizing putdown. It took me a long time to figure out why we were running into trouble about an issue—our positions relative to the word “ok” were different. Back then, I didn’t know about the Doppler Shift.


So, as re-booters, we need to be keenly aware of the possibility that others are receiving signals we don’t intend because they’re operating from a different angle of repose. And vice versa. The signals come in differently and so, the frequency on which they’re received varies, too. A relationship is never static, but we often pretend that it is. A successful re-booter remembers that there are no fixed targets.


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