Monday, May 28, 2012

On Being Wordy.

"What are you studying, Dad?"

"It's a book on etymology. "
Oh yeah, I know all about that" my son said. "It's the study of insects. We learned all about that in biology. I think I heard that term used on C.S.I. They were talking about how studying insects helped them solve crimes."
"You're right in the sense that etymology is the study of little things we often overlook - things which can really bug us and which, like ants, can be very biting, stinging and which can inflict great pain. But it isn't the study of insects! That's entomology!"
"Then what is it, Dad?"
"Well son, etymology is the study of the history of words — when they entered a language, from what source, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. Simply speaking etymology is the study of the origin of words and their evolution."

"So you're sort of like the Charles Darwin of words, huh Dad?!"

"Well I wouldn't go that far son but I do find it fascinating. I don't know why I love it so but it's like a holy addiction."

"Sounds serious dad. Maybe you need a 12 step program, like W.A! You know, Words Anonymous."
"Cute son!" I said. "Very clever. Maybe I do."
He is right. I really love words and I am, I must admit, an information junky! When I think about the subject of words, only one word in particular comes to mind - communication. But what is communication? Webster's says that communication is "the art and technique of using words effectively to impart information or ideas."
I used to think that communicating really meant talking, speaking, sharing, teaching, prophesying, or preaching! If that were true, then I would certainly have been considered a great communicator! I could and did, as they say, talk up a storm! As a young christian I was convinced that if, in the body of Christ, each of us was a part - I must be the mouth! I am aware that plenty of others thought they were too! I often wondered how so many other people could be so deluded! After all, everyone knows that in the body that there's only one mouth - ME!
Here in the south an often heard colloquialism is, "Well shut my mouth," and that's exactly what the Lord did. He used a marvelous brother named Tom Skinner to do just that! The first time I heard Tom speak I realized that there was an extreme difference between talking and communicating. He was the most marvelous communicator of the gospel I have ever heard. Tom's presentation epitomized the second part of Webster's definition; 'to impart information!'
"Communication" Tom said, "Is not about what you say but it's about what is heard!!"
Just now, as I write these words, I can hear my father saying to his 16 year old son, (ME) ;
"This is what I said, George, what did YOU hear?" or
"What part of be home BY 10:00 didn't you understand?"
Unfortunately, for me, dad was always careful to communicate to me - to put things in clear concise terms that I could and did understand! "I'm sorry dad, I must have misunderstood you." was never a valid excuse!
By definition, communication occurs only when the information or idea is imparted, disclosed, transmitted or made known to someone else.
In other words, until what you are saying is understood, there is NO communication. If he, or she, or they don't 'get it', NO communication has occurred! You're just, "flapping your gums," as my mother used to say.
One of the biggest hinderances to effective communication is what some may simply call vocabulary but which I call jargon. Every academic discipline has its own "special" stable of vocabulary words. Chemists converse about such things as reactions, hydrogenations, aqueous solutions, CH&N analysis, nonpolar bonds, reductions and titration. Lawyers speak legalese and talk about stuff like a mandamus, writs (I think you have one on each arm just above your hand) and "torts" - which I thought was some kind of a pastry from the bakery?! "Torts! Absolutely, I'll have a cherry one."
A good part of what we consider education in our Western world, involves the acquisition of the 'specialized vocabulary' used to communicate in a particular academic discipline or specialized field of study like medicine, chemistry, physics, computer science, biology or theology. This unique vocabulary allows one to converse with others in a particular field but in actuality means little or nothing to the "average" man or woman - to those not so educated.
Here's an example from my own life. For about a year i met with a group of men every Wednesday evening to play music. All of these men were accomplished musicians and they were also retired computer hardware and software engineers - except for me, of course! At our musical intermission or break time, we'd gravitate to the kitchen for snacks - something else I was accomplished in. Grabbing snacks and a drink the men would break up into small groups and enter into discussions about their former fields of employment. As an non computer type and a technologically challenged person listening in, it seemed to me that they were speaking a foreign language. Although I consider myself to be an educated and somewhat intelligent person, I could not understand one solitary thing they were talking about. I prayed earnestly for the gift of interpretation but to no avail. Although the conversation seemed so very exciting and stimulating to them, it was all Greek to me. It was σύγχυση.
This was the pattern which emerged every week, during break. While they talked computerese I just, stood there silently listening in but feeling like a total idiot. It would have been obvious to anyone observing that I didn't belong to their "club" and did not understand what they were talking about. I had nothing to contribute whatsoever to the discussion.
This pattern continued. Each week I couldn't wait for the break to end so we could get back to playing music. My feeling of being left out so intensified that I finally took to spending my break time in the studio tuning up, so I wouldn't have to experience the feeling of being on the outside looking in.
When it comes to communicating we Christians are often no better. When we speak, we tend to use a lot of theological jargon and arcane religious phrases like, grace, supplication, sanctification, redemption, propitiation, intercession, ecclesiology, escatology and the list goes on and on ad infinitum.
Although the mastery and understanding of religious language allows us to converse with "the saints" and be recognized within Christian circles as "spiritual", most of what we say has little or no meaning to those outside of our christian circles.
Much of our religious speech is nothing more than religious jargon! Christianese, I call it, and those in the world who hear or overhear us conversing, must feel very much like I did on Wednesday nights - uncomfortable, disconnected, excluded, mystified and bored to tears.
We Christians often talk about how the "gospel" (more Christianese) is the "power of God unto Salvation, yet much of what we "preach" or say is not comprehended by the hearers because of our use of jargon, theological terms or Christian buzz words! What we desperately need to learn is that; "communication is not what you say - but what is heard". We need less talking, less preaching, less orating, less jargonizing and more communicating! After all, we really do have something worth saying and worth saying well!
There is another aspect of the definition of communication which I just discovered and have found to be both enlightening and, at the same time, extremely disturbing. The dictionary gives a second definition of communication, which is as follows:
"Communication is the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals, writing......................or behavior. "
"Or behavior?!" Where did that come from? Just when I thought I was mastering the art of communication, I had to read this stuff. Great!
Recently I was told that most children learn best by observation. In fact, the article which I read said,that "Don't do as I do - do as I say" is totally impotent!! The author asserted:
"When there is a conflict between the values you profess or teach and the values you live or demonstrate, your children will model what you do, NOT what you say to do!"
In other words the question is, What am I communicating with my actions?
Now there's a thought. All of a sudden I find myself totally speechless or blogless. It must be writers block.
Got to go. We'll communicate about this some other time.

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