Tarzan and the Art of Communication

Tarzan. The name conjures up a wide variety of images doesn’t it?

My favorite is of Johnny Weissmuller standing on the fabled escarpment in his loincloth.  But this is not about fighting alligators, saving Jane or looking really good in animal skins. No, something entirely different.

While Tarzan is a fictional character (to most), there is no denying he holds true command of the world he lives in and frankly, I admire the way he had to learn the secrets of the jungle world in order to survive.

Millions of words are used every day, but only a portion of them are put together simply and directly enough to get their true meaning across.  Tarzan spoke and was understood.  This could be a lesson for us all.

Tarzan was a man of few words.  Tarzan was a man who didn’t know a whole lot of words.  But he was able to become Lord of the Jungle with the simple vocabulary he possessed before gaining an extensive British education.

How?

He used direct, specific and simple language to rule the jungle he presided

over.  He called it as he saw it. Nothing more, nothing less.

Tarzan always cut right to the chase of the matter.  In his world, there was no time for misdirection or misunderstanding.  When you are wrestling with your despotic, great ape, step-father Kerchak, you can’t take the time to state:

“Please, my elephantine friend would you be so kind as to throw my recently stone sharpened, seven inch dagger in my approximate vicinity?”

Nope.  You’ve got to state it directly, “Tantor, knife!”

You will note that Tarzan is also very specific without being verbose. (A challenge of mine for sure.)

In the novel, Tarzan the Ape Man, there is a note written to the would-be squatter in Tarzan’s house on the beach. (I have p.c.’d it a bit. ERB wasn’t known for his outstanding feminism or race relations.)

“This is the house of Tarzan, killer of beasts.  Do not harm the things which are Tarzan’s.  Tarzan watches.”

The note reveals in no uncertain terms that the house belongs to Tarzan, who will probably kill you if you mess with his stuff.  And to make sure nothing happens, he adds the unveiled threat that he is going to be watching to make sure nothing does!

You can’t get much more specific and direct than that.

The simplicity of Tarzan’s message is self evident.  His language is simple and clear.  He doesn’t overload his audience with extraneous details, be it jungle or urban animal.

If he needs a knife, that’s what he asks for.  If he doesn’t want you on his territory, that’s what he tells you.

Try this – read the statement and then translate it to its most common phrasing.  Answers will be at the bottom.

  1. “May I please have the distinct pleasure of escorting you out to the floor so that we may ambulate in rhythmic time to the melodious sounds emanating from the gathered musicians?”
  2. “Two siblings traversed a local geographic land mass to retrieve a cylindrical container filled with the potable liquid confined within the walls of a manmade, hollow depression located at the apex of said mass.”
  3. “I would like to initiate an invitation for you to join me in entering my personal vehicle of transportation powered by a combustable gasoline engine, so that we may voyage about the general surrounding areas.”

Fun, huh?

So while Tarzan may not inspire you chuck it all and go running amok through the jungle, you do have to admit he was a leader who proved that a direct, specific and simple message is often the best approach in a complicated and competitive world.

He did after all manage to conquer the jungle, lead a nation and get the girl, without wasting time or confusing the issue.

Answers:

  1. “Wanna dance?”
  2. “Jack & Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.”
  3. “Let’s go for a ride.”
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