Let's Talk About It

THE basic ingredient of a relationship is communication. Relationships cannot be initiated or viably maintained without some level of communicative exchange. Many of man's needs go unsatisfied or, worse still, unrecognized without some medium to express and respond to these needs. . .

-chaplain and director of public relations at Hadley Memorial Hospital, Washington, D. C. at the time this article was written

THE basic ingredient of a relationship is communication. Relationships cannot be initiated or viably maintained without some level of communicative exchange. Many of man's needs go unsatisfied or, worse still, unrecognized without some medium to express and respond to these needs.

The late Abraham Maslow, who headed the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, propounded a theory on the hierarchy of man's needs. He saw man as an ever-needing creature, with needs stacked in a box like Kleenex. As soon as one is satisfied, another pops up in its place, awaiting attention and satiation. These dynamic and ongoing needs of man are best met through communicative interactions with his fellow man.

The level at which man communicates is the level at which he lives. This is why I think heaven and eternal life will be so wonderful. In the new earth there will be a continual recognition and satisfaction of desires and needs through perfect communication. We will not then communicate "through a glass darkly," but face to face. We will not "know in part," but we shall "know even as also we are known."

God created us to be word partners. Made in His image, we are the highest earthly order to spring from His fertile mind and His productive hands. He shared a lot of Himself with man, endowing him with a power akin to that of His own. He gave man power to think power to do. He shared His mind with man, making man's mind an inlet from His great universal mind. Hence, man found himself with power to conceptualize abstractly and concretely and with power to symbolize his concepts verbally to emit sounds and expressions that meant some thing. He had to be able to do this so that he could live with his fellow man and with his Creator.

That men cannot live together without communicating is illustrated by the story of the Tower of Babel recorded in the eleventh chapter of Genesis. You recall that, after the Deluge, God placed a rainbow of promise in the clouds His assurance that the earth would never again be destroyed by water. A few centuries later men disdained God's promise, gathered together in a city on the plains of Shinar, and dared to undertake the building of a massive tower. Had the project succeeded, it would have indeed been the first "wonder of the world." Their plan was to build a place of safety should God's promise wear thin. The tower was to have provided a means of escape from the next flood. All God did to confound their plans was to arrange things so that they could not communicate with one an other. They could no longer live together or work together, so they left off building the tower and the city.

Isn't it a tragedy when people find they can no longer communicate and still have to live together, to work together, to serve on the same committees, boards, and staffs together? Isn't it an eight-to-five headache to have to perform under a supervisor where communication is a strained one-way street? Isn't it worse yet to fight through the rush-hour traffic to the little cottage in the suburbs where husband and wife, parents and children, cannot or do not know how to communicate? No wonder so many professional and domestic towers are tumbling.

What Is Communication?

What is communication? It is living, it is being, encountering, sharing, knowing, and being known. It is offering a part of oneself. It is getting outside of the narrow circle of self, disclosing the inner person. Communication is openness. It is giving-receiving, a quid pro quo.

This is why the young find falling in love so very wonderful. Attraction leads to the establishment of rapport. The essence of such rapport is a mutual feeling that it is safe to communicate. It is a warm, bright, trusting assurance. The popular song of a decade ago said something about "Getting to know you, getting to know all about you. Getting to like you, getting to hope you like me,. .. getting to feel free and easy, . . . getting to know what to say." Love is an atmosphere where communication thrives in a delightful climate of confident closeness.

Many a parent of a teenager in love has despaired of ever getting to use the telephone. Love communicates, and communicates, and communicates. The dates, the billets-doux, the gifts, the long silent walks, the touch of the hand. This is all sweet communication.

The date is set, the guests are met, the rice is thrown, and cloud nine lands on the bumpy runway of reality. Communication begins to drag, then wither. Then comes the classic question "Why can't we talk?"

Why Can't People Communicate?

Well, why can't people communicate? At times communication is precluded by a feeling that the other party will not listen, that it will do no good. When David and his men were in the wilderness of Paran he requested pro visions from a man of great wealth named Nabal. Nabal refused the request and added insults besides. Nabal's wife, Abigail, knew her churlish husband had taken the wrong course and hastened to countermand his selfish action. She did not bother to communicate with her husband at all. She knew it would do no good. Even the servants said of their master, "For he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him" (1 Sam. 25:17). In other words, it was not safe to communicate with this man whose very name meant "fool."

Fear also intervenes in so many of our relationships and "casteth out" perfect love, and open communication. "Because fear hath torment" (1 John 4:18). So we often don't say what really needs to be said, because we are afraid. Bosses and other associates are often robbed of needed feedback because people play it safe. They don't want to rock the boat. They keep their mouths shut for the sake of "peace." They stifle grievances, repress hurt feelings, and wear a phony facade of an "every thing is O.K." look. They fail to communicate for fear that the reaction will be one of defensiveness, which will in turn result in a negative reaction.

In the case where there is not an equality of power, we have to be very careful how we communicate even for the intended good of the other party. The prophet Nathan had to use extreme care in calling the knowledge of King David's sins to his attention. He had to veil the indictment in a poignant allegory lest his attempts at communication be met with a punitive reaction. Well might Nathan's tombstone be erected beside that of Uriah.

Even among equals, fear and hurt feelings can hinder vital communications. The pouting silence of the wife who has been hurt by a thoughtless or forgetful spouse indicates that something is not right. But when the husband asks, "What's the matter?" the answer is "Nothing!" Something surely is the matter, but the anger and the hurt preclude conversation, at least right at that time.

Often men withdraw from verbal encounter because they feel out classed. For the little woman to say, "Let's sit down and talk," can be about as inviting for some men as for Muhammad Ali to invite, "Come on outside and fight." Developmentalists agree that while men generally are superior in physical strength, women have the edge in verbal ability. Girl babies usually learn to talk before their male counterparts. At any given age, coming up through the school years, girls' vocabularies are usually superior to the boys'. It would surely be considered brutal for a man to use the area of his superiority in a physical en counter with a woman. It can be equally damaging to the fragile masculine ego for the woman to use her superior verbal skill to wound the self-image of her mate. Sharp words and sarcastic innuendo can cripple an intimate's self-image and respect, leaving him with little love in his cup to spill over on his spouse.

Atmosphere of Safety Needed

What is needed in all of our Christian relationships is an atmosphere of safety in communicating. Everybody has to feel a freedom to tell, a sensitivity to hear, to listen. And listening is so wonderful, so therapeutic. Listening is an act of love. Listening appreciates the speaker. It makes him in crease in value to himself and to the listener.

Sad to say, listening has be come a lost art. When somebody is talking are you really listening or are you marshaling your thoughts and awaiting your opportunity to get a word in edgewise? The great therapeutic tool of those in mental-health professions is nonjudgmental listening. It is doubtless worth the healthy fees they charge. In order to verbalize my problem, I must organize my confused thoughts into "gestalts" or unified configurations, ideas, and finally sentences. This very organizing of thoughts and feelings can be the first step in the therapeutic process. Who among the clergy has not had a troubled parishioner tell it, get it off his chest, then leave saying, "You don't know how much you've helped me"? And all the pastor did was listen.

Jesus Our Example

Jesus Christ is our great example in communicative ability. He was Heaven's communication link with man. Because He took time to communicate with His heavenly Father, He had no problem communicating with man. Even after a hard Saturday night holding office hours in the home of Peter's wife's mother, He arose early in the morning a great while before day, and went out into a solitary place and there prayed (see Matt. 8:16; Mark 1:29-35). He , often spent the entire night in communication with His Source of strength. From these nocturnal retreats He came forth fresh to effectively communicate to men all day.

Jesus never had "foot-in-mouth disease." He always knew what to say. The woman at the well presented no problem. He skillfully reached across the barriers to break the thick ice. He was liberal with honest compliments (see John 4:2), and unstinting in His approbation (see Matt. 8:10). He communicated well with Nicodemus, skillfully turning the conversation to the area of this Sanhedrin member's inner needs. He radiated love and acceptance to little children. He was for real a real feeling person liberally communicating, giving of Himself to all who came into His ecological space, drawing all who would be drawn into His circle of love.

We may still come to Him today. We may come to communicate personally. As we do, we will learn of Him to be meek and lowly in heart and to become channels for the communication of His love. Let's talk about it.


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-chaplain and director of public relations at Hadley Memorial Hospital, Washington, D. C. at the time this article was written

April 1975

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