by Paula Gail Benson
Last month, I wrote about receiving the book One Word that Will Change Your Life, which advocates that you select a word to focus upon for the year instead of making resolutions. In the comments to that post, Saralyn Richards and Gay Yellen responded that “gratitude” and “kindness” were words that had significance for them. Debra H. Goldstein asked me, “have you found your one word and has it been sustainable?”
After a month’s delay, Debra, here’s my answer: “the word ‘communicate’ seemed to find me and keeps returning to my attention.”
From Google’s Oxford Languages Dictionary, the first definition of “communicate” is to “share or exchange information, news, or ideas.” The sentence illustrating this definition is “the prisoner was forbidden to communicate with his family.”
At my church, we are anticipating a visit from an Estonian pastor whose grandfather (also a pastor) spent years in a Soviet slave labor camp. I’ve read some of the book Grandfather Pastor Harri Haamer wrote about his prison experience, We Shall Live In Heaven. When he was housed with hardened criminals, one of them asked if he was a “smasher.” He did not know that meant “burglar.” He quickly learned that these inmates claimed fifty percent of any package received by someone in the cell. When a package came for Pastor Haamer, he demanded they give it to him, which earned him respect. Then, he proclaimed, “I’m sharing all the contents of my package to you.” Some protested, only fifty percent, but Pastor Haamer insisted they take all. The oldest criminal told him, “at least come and share with us.” That formed a bond between them.
Pastor Haamer also heard the odd terminology of calling one of the prisoners a “cow to be milked.” He learned this inmate was a spy for the prison officials, who withdrew him from time to time to “milk” him for information he heard in the cell.
The Google Oxford Languages Dictionary’s second definition of communicate is “to convey or transmit (an emotion or feeling) in a nonverbal way.” This reminded me that even when people speak different languages or have no language at all, they may be able to communicate through expressions or gestures. We humans sometimes receive our most delightful and useful nonverbal (at least not “spoken”) communications from our pets that purr in delight or bark in warning.
Communication also may falter if translation is missing. One of my former law clerks was blind. He loved science fiction and fantasy stories. I remember discussing the initial Star Wars (now known as Episode IV) with him and stopping myself after mentioning how I felt seeing one of the opening scenes as a space vessel seems to be traveling overhead. I apologized thinking I had intruded in an area he could not share, but he told me he knew exactly what I meant because a version for the blind had descriptions of the visual actions taking place.
What I have noticed in my own communications this year is that what may be clear in my mind is not always successfully conveyed by spoken or written word. Often, I’m in a rush and leave directions that indicate there are multiple steps, but don’t adequately spell out each one. I rely that someone else remembers as I do, which may or may not be the case.
Already, just by focusing on “communicate,” I’ve noticed areas where I can improve clarity. It’s a continuing process, but I do find myself stopping to ask, “did I make that understandable for the person who will be reading or hearing it?”
Debra, so far, the focus on “communicate” has been sustainable. I’ll keep you updated as the year progresses!