Friday, July 28, 2017
Communicating with Love
We have all heard that for a church to live as a blessed community, we have to live differently from the society around us. We have heard this so often, it feels cliché and therefore worthy of being totally ignored. However, in the toxic climate in our society today, where violent communication is rampant, it is also quite true. Today we citizens of the United States have little trust in our institutions, whether the church, the government, our medical or legal system, or our employers. But it does not stop there. It has gotten so bad that only a third of all Americans trust each other. Why, it has gotten so bad most people won’t even trust others enough to bowl with them! All this mistrust leads to many arguments. Often people have gotten into the bind of thinking that anyone who argues against a favorite position (no matter what the topic) must be an enemy. Violence can and often does follow quickly in this sad scenario. Loving neighbors and enemies alike, as we Christians are called to do, is hard in times like these.
But, there are things we can do to counter this problem. We can start by thinking of each other differently. We have to work hard, and what better time to practice than the long summer days, to believe that everyone is basically compassionate by nature. We have to believe that all violent strategies, whether verbal or physical, are learned behaviors that are supported by the culture we live in and by whatever culture we were raised in. We are called not to approach every disagreement with our guard up and a deep desire to win, defeating our opponent at any cost. Instead we can enter into all conversations (including disagreements) with the idea that we just might learn something new, and maybe even have our mind changed, from our worthy discussion partner. When we make this peaceful approach, we also allow ourselves to remember that the person facing us is a whole person, with fears, hopes, and anxieties. We remind ourselves that this person just might be communicating out of those fears and anxieties. Instead of responding with fears and anxieties of our own (leading to heated arguments, hurt feelings, resentments, and grudges), we are sympathetic and compassionate to this person, especially if we see they are hurting. We do not view this person as an enemy.
Henri Nouwen reminds us that when we hold tight to complaints and resentments, we block God from entering our hearts and setting us free. Hang onto negative emotions, as so often happens in society today, and we trade faith, hope, and charity with fear, doubt, and rivalry. That’s certainly no way to live together.
To communicate well and build solid community, we can make sure that we are clear, that we are not intending to create a winner/loser situation in our conversation, and that we avoid blaming and accusing. We take personal responsibility for our own actions and leave the past in the past, never dredging up past mistakes or hurts. Even better, we spend more time listening to the other person than speaking. Listening well involves setting aside our personal feelings, positions, and preconceived notions so we can clearly hear what the other person says. Effective listening avoids assuming, accusing, and sabotaging the conversation.
Great aids to effective communication and community building include regularly complimenting people for the positive things they say and do. Doing that well means overlooking faults and weaknesses in other people, since we all have them.
We all get swept up in the ways of the world from time to time. We all have bad days and sometimes we communicate violently, whether intending to or not. However, as Rev. Dr. Harold Trulear reminded us, God uses a DVD, not a Polaroid, to record our lives and the lives of our beloved community, the whole thing, not just some moment in time when we stumble or grumble. We can always repent, turn around and do things differently, following a better and more loving way. Communicating with love is one of those ways.
Enjoy the summer and may we all bless others every day by communicating with love.
~Rev. J.B. Snyder