I love communication in all its forms: oral, visual, written. I admire great communicators of the past, and how they shaped history with their words: Churchill, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Reagan, Martin Luther King. I love those who communicate their Christian faith ably and nimbly, from those who write – C.S. Lewis, to those who preach – Whitfield, Wesley, Edwards, to contemporaries, Tim Keller, today.
I’ve been told I am a communicator. I like to talk. I was called “loquacious” by college professors before I knew what the word meant. I’m fascinated by the art of communication, from movies to radio, from professional speechwriters to newspaper columnists. I’ve tried to hone and enhance my own skills with years of study and practice, both in speaking and writing, and will continue doing so.
But I have often failed at communication where it is most important: communicating to those closest to me and those whom I love the most. Honestly, it can be the most challenging for me, and I know I am not alone in this. You can communicate effectively in teaching, writing, and even preaching, yet be perplexed with how to communicate to a spouse, a son, a daughter, or a parent. I’ve seen this in me and in peers and leaders today. Why is this?
I believe those who communicate to others regularly as a profession, whether preachers, teachers, politicians, actors, or writers, train themselves to hone gifts to speak for instruction and inspiration. They want to do it well. Yet we can forget or push aside vital aspects of knowing our own hearts, feelings, emotions, and how to articulate them. Instead of doing the hard work of probing deeper into our hearts, we cover up with platitudes, hoping others feel the way we want them to, and skipping the hard work of resolving and addressing difficult feelings within ourselves or with others.
I discovered this in marriage. Like all marriages, we have challenges and each of us bring shortcomings to the table. For me, I realize I’ve worked so much harder in communicating nimbly to others than in communicating ably with my wife. At times, that work is more difficult, and I just don’t want to do it. I have found when I don’t, there is a price. When I do the work, there is great reward. In this next season, my priority is to maintain constant and nimble communication with my loved ones first and foremost.
How can I make this happen? It takes self work, to think about what to say, and often to say less more often. This means more time to listen. This means guarding my internal resources and not pouring myself into outward communication, where I often come up empty when inner communication in the home and family unit is needed. And finally, it’s to see that even my loved ones deserve conscious, consistent effort at effective communication, not the leftovers. They need communication that is helpful, transparent, and open. Open to listening, open to sharing, curious about another’s thoughts, feelings, wounds, dreams, and desires. And after listening carefully, my job is to respond in a caring and nurturing way.
As I write this, I think to myself: nice words, but how often do I put this into practice? Not enough, for sure. So I admit: this is an ideal I aim and reach for, not quite arriving yet. But I see the need for this goal, and a deep conviction moves me closer daily.
I believe a lot of our present societal problems, even those witnessed in this past week’s protests over George Floyd, stem from issues above. We live in an age of constant communication; an ever-present ability of any person being able to communicate to the masses. With social media, all of us have a platform and pulpit. Many use their platform mostly to reinforce ideas within their own tribe or to instruct, criticize, or demonize of another tribe. There is short-sightedness in communicating only with those most important to yourself and those in your relational circles.
Platforms give opportunity to share opinions and observations, and there is always the temptation to share for the craving of public approval. Yet how many communicators do the hard work of considering the outcomes, thinking beyond their primary relationships and consider wider public audiences? Have we fallen into a culture where everyone wants to be an influencer yet forgets the ones we influence the most are in our private sphere, a sphere we can easily build a facade to hide behind? I fear we have.
Real change starts at the heart. It starts with our self-communication. It then rightly moves to those nearest and dearest. Only then can it most effectively, with integrity, move outwards. If we miss out on our own hearts and those we love or who love us most, what does the influencing of others accomplish? We gain the world, yet lose our own soul.
I think many of us need to practice and re-learn the art of effective communication, first to ourselves and then to those we love and are called to serve. This produces healthy families, growing into healthier communities, leading to a healthier nation. To speak as a mom, not a mayor; as a husband, not a hero; as a person with a distinct loved experience, not a politician – this is possible. The art of communication begins with knowing and communicating to oneself. From there, you can effectively listen and respond to others, our primary sphere being those in our homes. I challenge myself. I challenge you. And I believe many of us, including me, can rise to this challenge of being more effective communicators.
ARE YOU STILL MOVING? YES…
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