Communication is difficult. It is difficult to send a message to someone else, to struggle with the wording of it, and it is difficult to understand a given message and how one exactly one needs to respond to it, if at all. Even when we are attempting to understand others well and give the benefit of the doubt and trying to communicate with respect it is not easy to understand and to be understood. What I would like to do is to discuss some of the ways that I have pondered over matters that are difficult to say and why things may be difficult to say. As is always the case, this is not an exhaustive list.
Yesterday I found myself enjoying a sermon by one of our local elders. One of the special levels of enjoyment I had about the message was that it followed, in many ways, a message I had given years before (and which is one of the more popular and timely blog entries on this blog) to students in Thailand about the subject of why one should fast on the Day of Atonement. It is occasionally my habit to take the messages I hear at services as a starting off point and then continue them in some fashion, but seeing as I had already written about the subject at hand and said what I felt was necessary to say about the subject–it being a fairly straightforward subject after all–I found myself unable to find a convenient hook to the subject and thus felt myself deprived of what would ordinarily have been an easy entrance into something to write about. In this case, the difficulty in knowing what to say is literally a difficulty in saying something that is not uselessly repeating oneself because one has nothing new to add and can simply refer others to what has already been said.
Earlier today, I was looking up the news and saw articles relating to a soccer riot in Indonesia. Fans of the home team were unwilling to accept a loss to their bitter rivals and stormed the field, only to face tear gas and charges by police on the field, leading to somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 deaths at the most recent count I was able to see. How did all these deaths occur? It appears that there were deaths from being clubbed by the police officers, deaths from the tear gas (lack of oxygen and all), and deaths from trampling given the panic of the crowd of being charged by police officers, even for those who were not on the pitch. How will these deaths be recorded? What repercussions, if any, will follow for the deceased fans’ team as well as the police who appear to have some blood on their hands. What behaviors and circumstances can prevent panicked fans and somewhat violent police officers from leading to the death of many people? It can be hard to know what to say about these subjects, to know what useful words one could speak in the face of such manmade horrors.
It can also be difficult to find something to say when one is confronted with communication that seems to be at cross purposes. I tend to find it interesting when I have problems talking to people who also appear to have problems talking to me. When there are mutual problems in communication, it can be interesting to know whether the problems themselves are mutual as well, or whether it would be easier for one person to communicate if it was easier for another person to do so. Frequently, I tend to find myself less willing to move beyond pleasantries with people who will either not respect me personally nor respect my time. It is easy for us to say that we want other people to share their opinions with us and then make it difficult for one reason or another for those views to be expressed, and we can be irritated by other people paying us back in our own coin when it comes to communication. We can have asymmetrical desires about how we want to communicate and what we consider to be worthwhile communication from others. The result can be a general and mutual disinclination to deal with the hassle of communicating with others even though it would be easy enough under the right circumstances to enjoy such efforts.
When it is hard for us to find something to say, it is well worth our while seeking to ponder why that is the case. Being silent because one literally has nothing to say about a subject is not something that will tend to bother us, nor other people, generally. Being silent because one cannot find the right words, nor feel as if those words will be of any use, is something that tends to be more of a concern to us and to others. Such silence indicates a sense of unease, or a recognition that there are larger underlying problems that prevent one from speaking freely about the tangle of things that one thinks and feels. It is such problems that we try to overcome through surrounding ourselves with people whom we can speak freely knowing that they will respect what we have to say and honor even our fumbling and awkward attempts to describe something rather than use such vulnerability as an opportunity for mocking. Where such respect is lacking, communication will certainly suffer as a result.