Let me begin with a story. This past Sabbath I was supposed to give a sermonette in place of someone who was visiting out of town. I had received an e-mail message earlier in the week mentioning that there was going to be webcasting in The Dalles and to encourage people to sign up and visit, up to 80 people at least, and I cheered on the fact that we would have services there weekly, but it never crossed my mind that we were having the webcast and services there in place of the home where we have been recording services for the past couple of months. So it happened that Sabbath morning I got ready later than I needed to be and left later than I needed to and went to the wrong place to arrive at a place with a surprised homeowner letting me know that the services would be taking place in the Dalles in about half an hour. Now, I should have understood that from the message I had received, but somehow I read the message and cheered on weekly services in the Dalles but it never crossed my mind that I needed to be at the Dalles at that time myself.
What we had hear is a failure to communicate. To be sure, I should have been a more insightful reader and should have made the connection that the invitation to rsvp for services in the Dalles and that a webcast was taking place meant that it would be at the regular place. But my mind went to a both/and and not either/or approach, and I cheered on services being there without realizing that they would not be where I was accustomed to going to tape them. This is probably not an isolated occurrence, and it demonstrates the challenges of communication. The message that is sent is not always the message that is received. And there are several ways this can go wrong. Either people can read not enough into a message (as was the case with me), or too much into a message, or something different than what the message said (as was also the case with me). In any case, genuine communication does not happen unless people read what was intended in a message and understand and take action accordingly. This is by no means an easy thing to do.
There are a variety of reasons for this. We may read a given text or receive a given message and not realize that it has implications for us. It is easy to cheer on something in the abstract and not to be aware of the repercussions of it in the practical sense. For example, someone may cheer on protesting until it threatens their own safety or property, or they may have a consistent dislike of it. The latter is clearly the morally superior option. A great deal of communication problems happen because people do not actually want to communicate everything but deliberately leave things ambiguous. Even when people want to communicate something directly, it is hard to make sure that message is understood by the audience. It is easy to see how we might have understood something better, but we all communicate things to other people where others read more, less, or different than what was intended, and act differently than we would expect based on that misreading. As someone who certainly misreads things sometimes, I have a fair amount of empathy for others who do so, even when it comes to me and to my own messages.
I wonder how common a problem this is. It is perhaps not always evident when messages are misunderstood. There are a great many times where people say things or write things and others do not get it. Sometimes it is even for the best that what someone is trying to communicate is not fully understood. Yet most of the time the lack of correspondence between the message that was sent and the message that was received is not known because the matter never comes up. But when a communication is meant to provoke some sort of change of action and that message is not understood, it is very clear that there was some sort of foul-up in the message being properly understood and recognized for what it was. It is when this sort of thing happens that we have to ponder what would have made the message clearer. It is easy for us to think of how other people could have made themselves more plain, but it more difficult to know how we could make ourselves better understood to others unless we tell them. And that is not always as easy a matter as we would hope.