St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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What’s Talk Got to Do With It? Everything.

I spent a lot of time and energy learning communication years ago.  Those lessons serve me in various human relations.  The lessons I learned then keep recurring from time to time in other forms.  Most recently came a spate of books by one Don Miguel Ruiz, chief of which is called The Four Agreements.  It’s a simple model of human interaction with four easily remembered points: don’t take anything personally, be true to your word, don’t make assumptions, and always do the best you can.  There you have it.  The problem, of course, is living by them.  Most of us don’t.  And we get into trouble because of it through our deceptions, assumptions, and laziness.

Communication is crippled in our day and age as we experience instant polarization on the basis of minimal information.  We live by sound bytes.  Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters.  Characters, not necessarily even words.  E-mails can land you in a heap of trouble because they often sound more venomous than you intended.   People’s reputations can be literally ruined in seconds by anonymous, unsubstantiated rumors.  It’s a jungle out there in the cyberworld that is fast becoming real world.

I believe that God shows up in human dress.  By that I mean in all matters and manners human.  So I believe that communication is one of the central tasks we have to master.   The Gospel of John starts with the words, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.”  Stop right there.  Here are grounds enough for contemplating the close connection between good, which is to say truthful, communication and God.

The late Roman Catholic monk Thomas Merton, in his book New Seeds of Contemplation, suggested that we are each of us words spoken by God and we spend our lives learning how to pronounce ourselves.  If his metaphor rings at all true, then we had best be sure we are communicating as openly and deeply as we are able.

Communication fails when we reduce another person to a slogan or an image or a caricature.  Lots of that goes on these days, and it is one of the main reasons for so much hatred and violence, I believe.  When you reduce another person to a caricature you disallow her from stepping forward and presenting herself in a genuine and whole manner.  People judge one another on the basis of the scantiest information, which is usually innuendo and not truthful anyway.  It’s like trying to communicate using only bumper stickers.  There’s not much mileage in that, but there may be a lot of anger.

Genuine communication involves vulnerability.  Genuine communication the Germans call Auseinandersetzung, “putting out and taking in stuff” about one another, in my free translation.  This would include honest and clear statements of disagreement without putting the other person down.

We know God in relationships, and communication is the basis of relations, so we’d better be sure we are doing it right.  My brother-in-law, a school administrator, tries annually to improve communication among members of his team.  This year he is using the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Craig Scott.  The term “fierce” means robust and untamed.  The simplest definition of a fierce conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves, into the conversation, and make it real.  Couple this idea with the four agreements and you have gone a long way toward achieving communication without innuendo or put-down.  Scott’s theme is conversations are not about relationships; the conversation is the relationship.  Make it a point to seek better communication in your life, and your life will be greatly enriched, both mentally and spiritually.

published 03 August 2012