Babel is a biblical tower, a metaphor for breakdowns in communication, a javascript compiler, and a 2006 movie starring Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt.

Several cultures, from Christian, Sumarian to African, tell legends from the past of hubris (excessive human pride) involving tower-building, perhaps a symbol of how ambitious humans believe we can build and build until we've conquered the earth as well as the sky.

Humans have built skyscrapers, dams, entire islands and spacecraft. Our hubris has extended as far as outer space, and stretched thin our energy and planetary resources.

Sometimes we may wonder, how long can all of this possibly last? We do not have to wait for divine intervention to strike us with a myriad of new, foreign tongues or even for the sun to devour the earth in its red giant flames...we will run out of some thing or other first--clean air, water, energy, possibly peace and good will.

The 2006 psychological thriller, Babel, set in Morroco, United States, Mexico, and Japan, highlights how people fall short and fail to communicate, with heartbreaking results. Each culture, whether deaf, American, Morrocan, Mexican, or Japanese, is portrayed with empathy, depicting the characters' good intentions, innocence, and unfortunately, fear. Mistrust leads to fear and animosity until that classic cinematic moment where everything in the intersecting plot-lines goes to hell. The lesson here is absolutely applicable to real life: that misunderstandings and lack of trust can lead to the worst possible outcomes, which better communication may have prevented.

In a healthcare setting, lack of communication and miscommunication can lead to death. Whether it's a critical lab result, listening to a patient's concerns, assessing and reporting changes in condition, or making sure all the different specialists collaborate on the plans of care, communication is critical. It is as important as ever even as brain death occurs, because here come difficult decisions to make, delicate news to share, and all the stages of grief at once.

Yet we speak in different languages, and even in the same language, with different styles and nonverbal expressions. Assessment, asking someone their needs and preferences, is key, but also more easily said than done, because trust takes time to build, as do communication skills. A lifetime, it seems.


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