What my favorite joke teaches about the importance of good communication

My favorite joke is not new, most of you have probably heard it before. The joke goes like this:

A bear and a rabbit are taking a shit in the woods. The bear turns to the rabbit and asks “when you take a shit, does it stick to your fur?” The rabbit looks up and replies “no.” The bear picks up the rabbit and uses it to wipe his ass.

I don’t know about you, but this joke cracks me up every time. I’m fully aware that on the surface the joke seems simple and even childish, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see there’s a lesson to be learned. Let’s break it down.

Two creatures that are very unlikely to communicate, let alone take a dump together, find themselves in each other’s company while taking a number 2. We have no clue why but I’ve learned to accept it as a fact. I request you do the same so we can move forward. The bear has a problem. He’s fully aware of this problem and has most likely spent many hours thinking of a solution. His problem is simple: he’s a furry creature and excrement tends to stick to fur. This means that whenever he relieves himself, he has to deal with a nasty side-effect.

Personally, I have my best ideas while sitting on the toilet and it appears this particular bear and myself have that in common because at that moment our furry friend comes up with a tremendous idea. Clearly, the bear is a much larger and stronger creature than the rabbit. A fully grown brown bear can weigh up to 600kg (yes, I use the metric system, deal with it). The average rabbit on the other hand, will not weigh more than 2kg. There’s no question that the bear can just take the rabbit and do whatever he pleases with the little creature (a lot of forceful creatures seem to be doing that lately). Instead, he’s a gentle and friendly individual and asks the rabbit whether he suffers the same unfortunate fate of shit sticking to his fur. Even though the bear’s intentions are exceptional, this is the point where things start to get messy (pun intended).

The issue is that the bear does not fully communicate his intentions with the rabbit when he asks the above-mentioned question. He’s just asking a random question without any context. Answering a question without context, the rabbit is soon to find out, can be a tricky thing. The bear makes an additional mistake, as do so many. He does not consider the fact that his own experience may differ from those of others for a wide variety of reasons. Instead he relies on a simple equation in which fur plus shit either equals, or does not equal shit sticking to fur. Enter the rabbit.

The rabbit is asked a random question. Maybe he’s intimidated by the size of his bathroom buddy or maybe he’s just a naïve creature, I truly don’t know. The fact remains that the rabbit should know that you need to request more details before you answer a random question. Instead, he answers the bear’s question truthfully. His answer, as we know by now, is “no.” Remember the equation involving shit and fur? There’s a very important parameter missing from that equation: not all creatures shit in the same manner. The rabbit, as opposed to the bear, shits in pellets. Pellets don’t stick to fur. If the bear was to shit in pellets, he would not get shit stuck to his fur and the joke would’ve made no sense. The rabbit knows one simple truth: his poop does not stick to his fur. He doesn’t know why. He most likely never even took the time to realize that there are creatures out there who do not shit in pellets. In other words, when he answered the question, he was guilty of making the same mistake the bear made and did not take the time to relate to his partner in conversation.

The result of this unfortunate case of miscommunication has not been described in the joke but we can all guess it. The rabbit ends up with a lot of bear-shit on his pretty fur. Could this have been prevented? Absolutely. All that was needed, was better communication. So, if you do not wish to be the bear or don’t want to end up like the rabbit, I’d like to suggest the following:

1. When communicating with someone, you need to make sure you provide the full picture. Provide all the details so that you’ll receive the best reply; one that will actually help you move forward based on the right data.

2. If someone asks you something but forgets to provide all the needed information, make sure to request it.

3. Always try to relate to the person sitting opposite you. Do not make assumptions that your truth equals that of the person you’re communicating with. Listen, look, and empathize.

4. Try not to wipe your ass with someone else.

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