In computer programming, mastering syntax is the key to learning a new programming language. Unless you give a machine precise instructions, it will spit out an curt error message that is often cryptic, and present a blinking cursor for further instructions.
The machine’s rebuke isn’t personal – it is merely a limitation. The computer is used to communicating a certain way. The syntax is the ‘tax’ we ought to pay in order to instruct it.
As humans, we all have our syntax – we made computers in our likeness after all. Our syntax, however, is implicit and is packaged in our culture via language, gestures, rituals, customs and etiquette. When we wish to communicate with people in a different context as our own – people from a different country, profession or generation – we ought to learn the syntax that is embedded into their culture.
If we do not, we are likely to be rebuked. And when that happens, it isn’t personal.