"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

By Micky Wolf

A friend and I recently began collaborating on a writing project. At present, we are engaged in a series of conversations to clarify the focus and pieces of the work and how it is to unfold. A recent exchange of ideas began innocently enough when she posed the question—not once, but several times: “What do you mean when you say that?” Given that we had already determined the finished product is to offer specific ideas and suggestions the reader can apply to his or her daily life, it is mandatory we revisit this question on a regular basis. 

Apart from creative endeavors, however, the aforementioned question has relevancy in any life circumstance where we are hoping to share our thoughts and feelings and be understood in the process. Given the array of available technology, it has become increasingly easy to unleash words, words, and more words. 

Being aware of some of the subtle deterrents to communicating with clarity will go a long way toward improving the prospects that our message will not get lost or buried in a mucky mess of phrases.

Saturation of discipline-specific jargon…

The more time we spend thinking or working in a specific discipline—medicine, health care, education, religion, and so forth—the greater the likelihood we have developed an instinctive familiarity with the language and vernacular associated with that discipline. That’s not a problem when we are with colleagues, but it can be when we are trying to communicate with those less familiar with the subject matter. If we hope to share our insights and knowledge, it is imperative we learn how to convey our ideas. This does not mean ‘dumbing down’ the material, simply, caring enough to choose words and expressions which will inform others without condescension. Christians are no different when it comes to falling into this tripping-off-the-tongue-trap.  

Being vague…

Sometimes, in our good intentions, we believe being vague will go a long way toward minimizing or eliminating conflict. Unfortunately, when we succumb to broad strokes and generalities with our words, all we really end up accomplishing is adding more chatter to a world already awash in noise. 

Trying to soften or sugarcoat truth…

A couple years ago I needed to have surgery to remove ‘suspicious tissues’ from one of my breasts. While I had every confidence in my doctor [and still do for that matter], it was only months later and after the fact that I learned from a physician friend the terminology my surgeon used, while truthful, was in fact, a much more vague way of describing the actual procedure. This approach seems common in the medical profession, probably with the intent to downplay the potential seriousness of certain diagnoses. 

While it may seem wise or thoughtful to communicate a particularly serious or painful truth about anything by using softer rather than what might seem more harsh language, in the long term we may actually cause more suffering than had we been forthright from the start. This is no less important when communicating with others about issues of an emotional or spiritual nature. Jesus was never cruel, but he was always clear and to the point even if, on occasion, his listeners had to take some time to ponder what he was saying to them.

Unlearning some of our bad habits and ingrained ways of communicating can be a challenge, but here is God’s promise to each of us as we make new choices to say what we mean and mean what we say—our thoughts, words, actions, and deeds become much more reflective of the person of Jesus Christ. And that, my fellow traveler, will go a long way toward helping each of us be an authentic witness in living a truly Christian life. 

Do I know how to be clear in communicating with others?

Do I tend to use flourishes and embellishments? Why?

How do I feel when I know I am sugarcoating truth?

How do I feel when I sense others are trying to protect me by using soft or vague terminology?

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