“The marvels — of film, radio, and television — are marvels
    of one-way communication, which is not communication at all.”

    –Milter Mayer

    “The most immutable barrier in nature is between one man’s thoughts
    and another’s.”
    –William James

    “It is a luxury to be understood.”
    –Ralph Waldo Emerson

If the number of words or the volume of our speech is any
measure, we must surely be living in an era of unprecedented, free and
open communication. Radio and television waves blanket our bodies and
minds day and night. Miniature receivers muffle our ears to the sounds
around us and insure that we are never disconnected from the national
dialogue, our favorite tunes, or the big game. On a personal level the
Web, electronic mail and cellular telephones have made communication
instant and instantly accessible. And should we manage to escape even
for a moment — we can always be paged.

So why aren’t we communicating with one another?

The problem seems to pervade our culture. Politicians who before the
election assured us of their position on an issue devote entire careers
to explaining how badly we misunderstood their words. Bosses frequently
find themselves wondering if their employees are even working for the
same company — and employees have no idea why their project has
suddenly become “hot” or been canceled. Husbands and wives leave cryptic
notes for one another where their lives momentarily intersect, each
confident the other is clairvoyant. Too late we learn that what we
thought we knew about each other isn’t true — and we wake up strangers
to one another.

Assumptions play a major role in communications glitches. It’s a
condition that seems to worsen, the further along life’s pathway we
travel. Maybe that’s because, based upon our experience, we pigeonhole
people and ideas — even if we have to spend inordinate amounts of time
keeping them from flittering out of their warm, comfy cubbyholes. If I
assume that I already know what you are about to say, then I am less
inclined to listen carefully to your words. The same is true if a
decision has already been made: Why take time to listen to input that
might mess up the predefined output? This happens all the way from
presidential fact-finding commissions to family vacation destinations.
Unfamiliar ideas — actually heard, understood, and considered — have
proved fatal to many a preconceived notion. “But sweetheart, I thought
you liked ties for your birthday!”

Sometimes there are perfectly good reasons why others don’t
understand what we say. Mankind hasn’t changed that much in 2,000 years,
and Jesus put it well when in the midst of a heated debate with the
religious rulers of his day He said, “Why do you not understand what I
say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” His opponents’
response, too, is instructive even after all these years: “Are we not
right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:43,
48) It’s easy to find reasons why we shouldn’t listen to certain

Given the consequences of miscommunication, men, especially, are
prone to withdraw. It was Calvin Coolidge who said, “I have noticed that
nothing I never said ever did me any harm.” My wife, upon seeing that
quote, penciled in, “Eek! Selfish man!” Women, it would seem, are more
inclined to view the matter as expressed by Anne Morrow Lindbergh: “Good
communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to
sleep after.”

I think it was Francis Schaeffer, a Presbyterian missionary who never
set out to become a great philosopher or theologian — and yet turned
out to be both — who said that God wants to restore our relationships
in three areas: With Him, with each other, and with ourselves. Jim
Horsley, in his book
“A Different Kind of Courage” (Word Publishing 1998), relates his
journey as a Navy Blue Angels pilot obsessed with things, power, and
prestige — to father, husband, and servant. Near the end he concludes,
“I’ve discovered that, like it or not, we’re all hard-wired for
relationships. And that begins with my relationship with the One who
created me. I’ve found that if I’m not right with God, it doesn’t work
very well for me anywhere else. … (At the end of my life) I wouldn’t
want to be in a position to have Jesus ask me, ‘Jim, why should I be in
a relationship with you for eternity when you wouldn’t make room for Me
on earth?'”

Whether you’re a Christian or not, the holidays may be a good time to
assess what’s really important in your life — and spend some time
communicating that truth.

Would you like some tips on communicating better with those you
care about over the holidays? Then visit the CC&M website. Follow the Christmas
road signs to the free Holiday Healing & Repair Kit.

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