Keith dicusses the art of communication
As I write, Christmas is still to come. As you read, it is over and possibly almost forgotten (I hope not). We have just had the coldest start to a winter for 30 years, although it is a beautiful, sunny, cloudless but cold day as I write.
Because I know I have a penchant for pontificating I thought this cartoon could be in point. I suspect you cannot read the legend, which says ‘My theme for today is effective communication.
Communication is, of course, what it is all about. We can’t all keep up with modern forms unfortunately. For example, my thumbs have not developed as my youngest daughters have – so she can whiz through text messaging, whereas I am still doing it like a one finger typist (there’s a word which will soon be removed from the Dictionaries as being archaic). Moreover, my phone insists on spelling (wrongly as often as not) words that I have no intention of typing in anyway. My computer, which is set up to use English English (not American or Indonesian or Australian or any other form of English) nonetheless insists on spelling in American. I have at last understood that ‘MicroSoft’ must be a reference to the brains of the software writers, not some sort of brand name. And its grammar and syntax checking is worse than uneducated.
But despite all this Luddite wingeing, communication is effected. It is very much a question of evolving along with everyone else and trying not to fall too far behind. On the other hand there is also a danger of losing much that is valuable or beautiful if we try to evolve too quickly – ie to revolve (revolution not evolution). The language of the 16th Century Book of Common Prayer and the 16th/17th Century King James Bible is in places extraordinarily beautiful and often poetic, but just as often (perhaps more so) it is opaque or difficult for modern ears. Just as you have to learn to read and appreciate poetry, so you need to learn to read and appreciate Shakespearean language. In the meantime, life carries on and we need to talk to each other and read what is instructive or enjoyable.
For years now we have been exposed to terrorists. If we are to believe them they are trying to tell us something. Their message, unfortunately, is wholly lost, if not contradicted, by the method of its delivery. It’s difficult to believe in the God whom (they say!) tells them to haphazardly kill whoever happens to be in front of them when they press the button and that by that act they will earn their place in Paradise. You have to wonder whether the message has got distorted (like Chinese whispers) somewhere between God speaking and the message being delivered to them. Worst of all, you may feel that, if you needed any evidence, this has got to prove that there isn’t any God at all – at least not one you would want to know.
Christians, Hindus, Jews, Moslems and so on are all interested in defending their beliefs if they are challenged. Many of them are keen to tell everyone else about their beliefs without any prompting at all. I have had two visits from Jehovah’s Witnesses in the past several weeks. Most importantly they were cheerful and polite and did not try to force anything on me at all, least of all a loss of time. They left very promptly when I said that I knew something of their beliefs but was steeped in my own version of Christianity. They offered (only once) a tract that I did not want to take from them. I was left impressed by them as people, not in the least threatened. Would that all preachers could say the same.
If we are anxious to share our beliefs (not necessarily religious beliefs, but political, social etc beliefs as well) how are we do it in ways that are friendly and not threatening and in language that does not strain the ears and senses of the listener. It is a test that most of us face, some of us more than others. How do we make sure that the message is not lost in its delivery, whether in the Bang of the terrorist or the Spin of the politician?
I am currently looking forward to Christmas. I am looking forward to seeing some Nativity Play(s). I am looking forward to seeing brightly decorated Christmas Trees and little children bursting with excitement as they open their presents. I am looking forward to sharing a glass of port or mulled wine with friends and relatives in the cosy winter-evening warmth of our homes. The way we live at times like these communicates strongly our feelings of goodwill and generosity towards each other. Why do we enjoy this so much and yet withdraw from it during the rest of the year. We don’t have to give generous presents or drink mulled wine all year long, but it takes so little effort to be essentially generous in our dealings with each other. If we can do that the words we use almost don’t matter. Our beliefs are conveyed more than adequately by the way we live. That language is timeless and limitless – fully as comprehensible in the 17th century as now, fully as comprehensible in China or America as here. I suppose the message for me is to stop twittering on and go and dress up like King Wenceslas and get to it!
Licensed Lay Minister