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Correcting our failure to communicate

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By David Whitlock

 

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”


Communication is an imperfect science, to say the least.
I picked up the phone just the other day and thought I correctly read the caller ID: “Lebanon Elementary School,” the school where my wife works. So naturally, I assumed it was her.
But that’s not what it said. And it wasn’t her.
I didn’t have my reading glasses on, and though I held the phone at arm’s length and squinted, I still missed the name.
But, convinced it was Lori, I blurted, “Hey, Babe, why didn’t you call me on my cell, like you always do?”
I could feel tension on the other line, then a timid, “Could I speak with Lori?”
Oops. It definitely wasn’t Lori.
Then I wrongly assumed it was another teacher: “Oh, I’m sorry,” I chuckled, a bit chagrined at the thought of how I had referred to the caller as “Babe.” I tried to recover: “You want to speak with Lori? But Lori’s with you, isn’t she?”
“No, sir, Lori isn’t with me.”
“Then where is she?” I asked with confusion oozing from my voice.
Now, with the faintest hint of irritation, “Sir, I’m calling to confirm her appointment tomorrow.”
Ahh, I finally got it, even without my reading glasses.
I wished I hadn’t answered the phone and just let the voice mail get it. I imagined the receptionist hanging up the phone, twirling her seat around, and giggling to her co-workers. The whole thing had probably been recorded for quality control.
“Hey, come on over here and listen to this guy,” I could hear her saying as she bent over in her chair laughing.
The whole office is now primed for a funny one before they even hear my voice. I could see them all gathered around the recorder, laughing hysterically till their sides ache.
“We needed that,” one chortles. “Talk about a confused hubby,” says another.
They shake their heads in pity at me as they return to work.
Having located my reading glasses, I try and dismiss this scene by calling my 87-year-old father. Sharing my embarrassing moment with him will be cathartic, I think. But first I ask him how he’s doing.
“OK, now,” he says, “but yesterday we saw the worst movie ever. (Dad and a group of men at his retirement center go to a movie once a week.) Foul language, horrible. I don’t know why people think they have to talk like that. And this couple lived together just to have sex. Terrible.”
“Well, what was the name of the movie?”
“I don’t even know.”
“You didn’t know the name of the movie? Why did you see it?”
“Didn’t intend to. We misread the marquee and went in the wrong theater!”
I started laughing at the thought of these perplexed men, well into their 80s, sitting in the wrong theater, grimacing at each other, trying to figure out what’s going on.
Then, I caught myself. “What am I laughing about? I haven’t told him my story.”
As the saying goes, “The acorn didn’t fall far from the tree.”
And if you think about it, it didn’t fall far from you either.
We’re all communicatively impaired. The Tree of Communication Confusion, planted in the Garden of Eden, blossomed when our first ancestors ignored God and misread Satan. Then the confusion went viral at the Tower of Babel. Though down the centuries, through word and prophesy, God kept trying to grab humankind’s attention, most just didn’t get it.
As a last resort that was always in the works, God himself came in the flesh to talk like one of us in our language.
“Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand (Mark 4:9),” Jesus said.
But even after the resurrection of Christ, it was difficult to read the message, at least at first sight: “It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him (John 20:14),” John noted of a disoriented Mary Magdalene.
But it’s a true and wonderful story, even though we still struggle to understand, and this week Christians celebrate it---the Passion of Christ, culminating in his death and resurrection.
So, put your reading glasses on and find the right theater. You don’t want to miss this one.
Contact David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com or visit his website, www.Davidbwhitlock.com.