I’ve been to the dentist many times. Cleanings, fillings, root canal, extractions…many different procedures. Some have been quick, others have been so difficult and time-consuming that my jaws ached from holding my mouth open. Pain, pressure, sounds of the drill, scraping sounds, water…that’s all my perspective…the perspective of being the patient. I wonder what it would be like looking into and having my fingers in other people’s mouths all day long. I don’t get that, because it’s not my world. Not my perspective.
A little over seven years ago, I stood at the graveside of my dad and said my last goodbye. He had died unexpectantly in his sleep. And standing beside me at that final resting place was his spouse of 57 years – my mom. As broken as my heart was for losing my dad, in spite of how “real” that was for me, I have no idea what it is like to lose a spouse. I don’t get that, because it’s not my world. Not my perspective.
“I love black people, I have black friends.” I have come to believe that statement is either one of the silliest or most offensive types of things we can say. By saying that, we are communicating that we know and understand the culture of the group of people we are discussing. The proclamation is also used as a shield against charges of racism. My son-in-law is of another ethnicity. But just because I know and love him, does not mean that I understand his culture of heritage. It’s not my world. Not my perspective.
The same goes for:
* “I have gay friends…”
* “You need closure…”
* “Let me give you some advice…”
Context matters. It matters, not only from where we are coming from when we speak, but is matters just as much from where the listener is hearing it. If we aren’t careful, we will get tuned out and ignored. Our drive to be understood must be just as concerned about the context of the hearer as it is the context of the “truth” we are attempting to convey. Otherwise, what ultimately gets communicated may not be anything like what we are trying to say.
The problem lies in the fact that we like the sound of our own voice more than the other person’s.
This past weekend I was at an event that was deeply meaningful. Lots of awesome information was shared. And it meant something because of the context out of which the information was given. The speakers were sharing out of pain experienced, not situations learned about in a clinical classroom setting. By hearing their story and seeing their tears, I could sense their hearts.
When someone says that they are gay, instead of trying to convince them you know all about that (unless you are gay yourself), let them tell you about that. I assure you that it is much more complicated than having sex with another person of the same gender. That’s only one sphere of the universe in which they live. Let me tell you about being gay…about being a gay christian…about being in a mixed-orientated marriage…about being a dad and grandpa. Once you’ve taken all of that in, then we can begin to have real meaningful conversations about this journey I’m on.
I want to be known by a good friend. Without being heard, that will never happen.
Communication is complicated. Take it one word at a time.
Context is the trump card.