The world is more connected now than ever. Within seconds, we can read someone’s written thoughts and expressions right on our phones, even though they are continents away. We see the words, we read the posts, but are we understanding? In our pursuit of free expression, are we paying attention to others? I want to be a better communicator. I want my communication to truly be a two-way street. I want to hear what you have to say.
Communication isn’t as easy as we typically think it might or should be. Not real, meaningful communication. It’s a skill, one that must be practiced over and over and over again. It takes time and effort. Thankfully, we can certainly grow in our communication skills; it gets easier when we invest in its development. As followers of Christ and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, it is my humble opinion that we only do ourselves a favor when work hard to develop the ability to connect heart to heart.
Our first steps in communication have to do with getting our needs met. Even before the development of language, a child can signal to those around him when he is hungry, frustrated, tired, or in need of attention. Early language reflects this same mindset with “I want this” and “I want that.” Before long, though, we also learn to develop meaningful expression for purposes of relationship: “I love you, Mama!” The trick is learning to put those expressions at the front end of our conversation.
Meaningful relationship is the higher goal of communication. Entering into a place of friendship, care, and intimacy reflects a much deeper spiritual need: to know and be known. Out of that place of longing, we devote ourselves to mutual understanding and sharing.
Between those two spectrums is everyday life. The question now is whether we lean to our primal beginnings or toward an enlightened maturity, and the key often comes down to the bigger half of communication: “listening.”
Listening well is an art form. Most of us are not as good at it as we think we are. Just take a quick look at any of the social media platforms. Individual posts often reflect the same basic expressions of a child. Read between the lines to the core issues and you will find these expressions: “I’m angry; I’m tired; I’m happy; I’m inspired; I’m smarter; I’m worried; I’m grateful; I’m compelled; I’m vengeful; I must correct you;” and so forth. Our need to vent our emotions often trumps meaningful conversation. That becomes apparent by reading most of the comment sections that inevitably result.
What if we put the other person first? What if before pontificating our particular point of view or polemic, we just really worked at understanding the other person’s state of mind and state of heart. What if we plumbed the depths of intention and didn’t succumb to “gotcha” moments and unnecessary criticism? What if we first looked for what we have in common before we allowed differences to separate us?
Of course, what I’m really talking about is love. When we are centered in the Father’s love and exude it all around, what matters most is relationship…and not argument or positioning. Only then can we set aside our need to express, correct, convince, or interject and truly hear another person. When we finally hear, when we honestly can see through their eyes and reflect back to them their ideas, only then do we truly understand them. Love is interested in understanding. Love will look for commonalities, will build bridges toward others, and work at overcoming the difficulties in relationships in order to help others see the One who loves us most of all.
So…rethink that Facebook debate. Hold back on that passive aggressive Twitter post. Seek first to understand. Do the hard and necessary work of listening. Practice the courtesy of meaningful, kind dialogue. This is the way of love. Does love matter to us? Then may our words and actions champion it.
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” James 1:19 NLT