“Fancy seeing you here,” was my initial comment to the gentleman who was scheduled to share split sermon duties at a neighboring congregation with me this morning when I arrived at my normal congregation by a lengthy and circuitous route. His reply to me was that he thinks he should have communicated something to me, which I mildly agreed with while also commenting about the people we had contacted. Whenever one takes an unnecessarily long drive through some particularly beautiful countryside, while knowing all the while that there is a significant chance that one is engaging in a wild goose choose, it is worthwhile to understand why. I did not feel angry or upset with it. I knew that I had not been as communicative as I could have been and knew that others were not and that there was considerable ambiguity given conflicting sources of information and interpretation and all that. All in all, it was a no harm, no foul kind of situation as far as I was concerned, and the end result was that I ended up having a lovely time at church with a large amount of guests honoring our graduates, and the fact that I didn’t have sleep or relaxation time I could have did not overly bother me.
How do we choose to deal with situations like this? If we are aware that we do not always communicate as well as we should have and that other people do not always do a good job at responding to our efforts at communication, and that such communication as exists is frequently ambivalent and that one may have to play various odds and that certain important links may fail because one only has so much time and so much energy to seek to understand and communicate, then we can deal with such issues as they happen with a sense of clarity. There are certainly many occasions where I do not communicate what I am doing with others, largely on a basis of need to know, and many occasions where people do not communicate such things with me. My working assumption is that people who fail to communicate as much with me as I would prefer are not being malicious, but perhaps at worst careless, and at best they may simply be overwhelmed with what they are doing and not always possessing the time and energy to reach out. Self-knowledge can help build one’s empathy and compassion, as awareness of one’s own similar issues can help put the issues of others into context.
Failures to communicate matter differently in different contexts. There are a great many people I know who live far away from me and whom I do not communicate with on a regular basis. Despite this, I tend to feel as fondly for them from afar as I would if we were having regular interactions. I do not always feel as if there is much to report, personally, nor any issues I need to discuss, and so I am content to not communicate. There are other people with whom it can be awkward and unpleasant to interact with and so I tend not to want to interact with such people very often either. Certainly there are people I may enjoy interacting with who find me to be an awkward person to interact with for one reason or another, or vice versa. I do not think this is anything worth being angry or offended about. I tend to find it irksome to communicate with people who do not care about my thoughts and feelings but only their own, and there are likely people who I might interact with to gratify my own interests and feelings and not their own. Life and communication are complicated. We have mixed motivations for doing what we do–and communicating is one of those things that we do, or do not do. And if we are honest with ourselves, most of us do not do it as well as we think we should. We might communicate something one time but not do the follow-up to make sure that communication sticks. We might think we communicate something when we do not.
In such circumstances it is worthwhile to consider how it is that we respond to inevitable failures when they happen. My own personal approach is to get better without getting angry. Not everyone adopts the same approach. It is my observation that many people think they are far better at communicating than they really are. They think that they have the best motives in trying to make people better and improve others through their carping and critical interactions. They think that they communicate with others when they do not, and that such interactions are enjoyable to others when they are not. We can all think better of ourselves than is in fact the reality, and thinking well of ourselves often paradoxically makes us think of and treat others as worse because we view others as struggling with something that we do well and better than them when in fact we all struggle in like areas to a similar lack of success. A better and more humble understanding of ourselves in such matters would lead us to be less critical of others, more focused on self-improvement, and likely better and more enjoyable people to interact with. One can always hope.