“Communication leads to community, that is,
to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” ~ Rollo May.
I love words. I encountered a new one the other day, ‘sonder’, which is a noun representing the realization that random people live a life just as complex and vivid as our own. Most of the time we are so wrapped up in our own world and thoughts we believe we are starring in our own movie, with everyone else as extras. Apparently the word has only recently been introduced, but if you think about it, all of our words are made up. We who are gifted with the ability to talk, have assigned names and sounds and meanings to all manner of acts and things and feelings.
Unlike the rest of the animal world, human beings have developed a complex way of communicating, using symbols and language and technology to support and transmit it. But how many problems can be boiled down to an inability to convey what it is we really want to say? From mothers and their kids to world leaders, are we taking time to listen to each other, to confirm that what we heard was really what was said? My mother has a favorite quote (which Google has assigned to at least 3 different people!) which says “I know you believe you heard what I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” And from that confusion, all manner of tension and conflict can arise.
It is easy to imagine the problems that result from poorly constructed sentences in social media. We now have the ability to think and tweet on the fly, sending off our 148 characters without checking for spelling or grammar. Lack of correct punctuation can change the whole tone of a message. The book entitled ‘Eats shoots and leaves’ can describe the diet of a koala bear, while ‘eats, shoots, and leaves’ suggests an emotionless killer. But technology can garble our message, and autocorrect is responsible for many strange texts. Or our own careless fingers can change a posting about a trip to Starbucks for a shot of coffee sweetened by a stream of reggae music into something far less pleasant and profanity laced.
Our advances in ability to communicate (even Steven Hawking, with all of his tremendous disability can deliver lectures) are accompanied by an ever increasing variety of ways to be misunderstood. Is it any wonder then that if you feel as if your voice is never heard you decide to use not words but acts of violence and destruction to cry out, to call for attention? In losing our ability to hear each other, in failing to communicate, we are losing whole communities to hopelessness and despair. And then our leaders and commentators contribute to our inability to understand each other by using labels like ‘thugs’ which then generates a whole other discussion.
I have been transfixed by the tragedy and drama unfolding in real time on cable TV. I am struck by the need for healing, for programs that address the deep ills that ail our communities. We have allowed wounds to fester and become infected; we have ignored them and turned away from the bad odors and ugliness, and only pay attention when the fires blaze too close to home. The reality for many young black men is described in cold statistics: one in three can expect to spend time in jail. The USA has 5% of the world’s population, yet 25% of all of those imprisoned are in the USA. Prison has become a very profitable business, so a system which has failed to reduce crime, is making some people very rich. Meanwhile, prisoners are working in manufacturing, sewing uniforms for the army and being paid 69cents an hour to do so. Wouldn’t you love to have such a cheap labor force at your disposal?
There is much work to do, but it begins with this need for sonder, for the recognition that others have the same complex lives as we do. A need to try to understand what motivates the behaviors of others, even those we label or stereotype based on their outer appearance. One delightful scene on cable TV was seeing Geraldo Rivera being schooled by a demonstrator. There are many articulate, bright young men who are feeling the pain of living with the reality of two possible outcomes: early death or incarceration. The odds are stacked against them. Are we hearing their cry?
In our own communications, we may say the right words, but accompany them with the wrong tone or body language. I have a tendency to wear my feelings on my face at times, so in addition to trying to choose my words carefully, I need to also be aware of other messages that I am sending. Pops Stuart (former principal of Clarendon College) used to say “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say”. At work I am often caught if my actions do not match my latest FMM. But like an addict who is struggling to recover, awareness of the problem is the beginning of the journey. And so I am trying to be more conscious, more aware of my speech, trying to be sensitive. I heard an acronym which suggested a guideline to resolving conflict: FELT – let your conversation be Fair, Evidence-based, Logical, and Tone Appropriate. I am working on those, and in particular the last one – that may be the hardest to achieve! When we are passionate about something we try to get our voices heard. And in doing so may lose our audience.
Have a great weekend family! Look around at your community; try to imagine the lives of others, the choices they have to make. Try listening instead of striving to be heard. I think it was Larry King who said he never learned anything by listening to himself. It is when we truly hear another that the potential for healing begins.
One Love! One Peace!