Until the advent of the telephone, communication was face-to-face (yes, there were letters, telegraph, smoke signals, drums, but here we are covering daily communications between regular people). It was one human being using spoken words to be received by another human’s ears. The important matters of businesses, town councils, and governments took place in meetings, where one not only received information but could also see the emotional state of the person speaking. The telephone changed that somewhat especially when the speakerphone (and later the video camera) was invented. However, people still gathered together in real time and space to discuss matters of importance. Then came text messaging and the internet.

Yes, live meetings became the bane of existence for business people. These meetings got the reputation of time wasters, where you were trapped in a room accomplishing little after spending a good chunk of time getting there. So with the creation of electronic devices accessed through high-speed connections, one can be anywhere on the planet and still participate. Cool, right? That’s if there is a video feed to the equation. Most of the time, people just “text” or “post”. So what you get, in essence, is an electronic letter to read which can be misinterpreted in its meaning. Sorry, but “e-moticons” do not count. As humans we need face-to-face communication not only to discern the speaker’s emotional state but also to be able to immediately ask a question to clarify something confusing.

A prime example of how this faceless communication not occurring in real time can go wrong, was recently when President-elect Trump sent his infamous tweet with the word “Nazi” in it. He knew why he was using that to backup a point of his but did anyone other than historians and Baby Boomers get what he was referring to? No. And since tweeting isn’t “real time” even if someone responded to his tweet asking for clarification, he didn’t have the time to send out another tweet to do so. That hardly happens in real time meetings and we saw this during the press conference when a reporter brought it up and Trump went on to explain himself. Bingo, the entire watching universe understood.

I’m not saying that tweeting or texting should be avoided. We can’t go back to the days before these devices and programs were available. However, like we all learned with the e-mail universe, once you hit the send button it’s out there for better or worse. With faceless communications, we all need to try very hard not to say things in a confusing manner or make references that only a certain portion of the population gets (hmm, like telling an in joke that can backfire on you when most of the listeners don’t get it!) It’s also great that now our chief executive can communicate instantly with the masses. Very few previous Presidents had either the technology or the skill to use it as he does.

Meetings have become the dinosaur of the 21st century and Twitter and Facebook have taken its place. It doesn’t matter if you are the President of the United States, or a 12 year old communicating with her best friend, what you say can become a disastrous opportunity to be misunderstood. Keep the message simple, avoid jargon or historical/political references, and you should be on safer ground as a 21st century communicator.

On Jan 11 we saw on a national scale how untrue words, i.e. “Fake News” can hurt. No, president-elect Trump didn’t reveal whether the story about him hurt him psychologically, but it did create a hostile attitude towards CNN, took time away from the important items of the press conference, and kept people still wondering about the truth.

We are all guilty of spreading “Fake News” in the form of gossip. And sometimes even “good news” or honest words, when revealed at the wrong time, can have a detrimental affect on the listener.

Yesterday morning I found it ironic that a story from the Gospel of St. Mark (Mark 1:40-45) dealt with this very topic. In the Catholic Church’s Mass, readings go in a 3 year cycle and today’s was selected long before the Trump incident occurred. In this reading we have Jesus, teacher and healer, healing a leper and asking him to tell no one about how he was cured. The leper, however, delighted that he has been cured tells EVERYONE he meets! Yes, good news but its affect on Jesus’ ministry is that he now is mobbed everywhere he goes by people who want to be cured. Our priest used this as a teaching point in his homily: Whether good or fake news, our responsibility in using our gift of language is to take care in what we say and when we say it.

Words matter not only in their content but also in their timing and to whom we speak them.

As we start this new year, which has already been stained by violence across the globe, I would like to share with you this quote from the editors of Ornament magazine:

 

“We struggle with the terrible flaws that mark us as human, those imperfections that lead us to take destructive actions that could quench all life. Indeed, it was a rueful acknowledgment of the perils and glories of existence when Yugoslavian author Luis Adamic (1898 – 1951) wrote ‘My grandfather always said that living is like licking honey off a thorn.’

“The time is past when we can stand alone with our own close–knit communities and view the rest of the world as strangers, foreigners, others. The time is past when the world can be viewed as endlessly bountiful. This Earth is our only true treasure not the gold that lines our pocket. We are nature and we are part of an extraordinary universe. If there is transcendence to living it is our commonality with everything, ironic as that may be to some.” – Carolyn L. E. Benesh, Robert K. Liu, Postscript, Ornament, Volume 39 NO. 3

Quote of the Week

Posted: December 22, 2016 in Quotes
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“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” – Frank Finale

Joy, happiness, merriment, celebration, we are deep in a season where positive upbeat words permeate our songs, greetings, and commercials. So what is wrong with this picture? A virus of evil has infected us. Racism, intolerance and nastiness, aka adult bullying, has become a daily occurrence.

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s day, Christians, Jews, and African Americans will be celebrating a season of light amidst the darkness of Winter. Yes, even non-believers and atheists join in celebrating the good in people, the joy in a world all a sparkle.

When towns light their holiday trees, the only word to describe it is joyous – just look into the children’s faces as they anticipate meeting Santa! But elsewhere, in those same towns, dark words fly from the mouths of dark souls. Their hearts have been corrupted not by a President-elect’s words but by their own need to destroy what is good in human relations. Every woman in a hajib is a terrorist, every African American is dangerous, every Hispanic is illegal, and every police officer is out to get you. Toxic words turn to toxic actions and snuff out the candles of light.

So we must sing the songs of goodness louder, we must open dialogue with those different from us, if we believe in God we must pray for tolerance to reign. Our actions during this season must move us into that space where the greatest gift we can give another human being is love. Yes, the word that matters the most, not just in December but all year long.

As those who follow this blog know I rarely editorialize about a topic other than writing. However, with all the demonstrations occurring after our presidential election, with the shouting and anger, I feel I need to comment on this subject.

Like the students who now are taking to the streets protesting election results, I too did my share of demonstrating. In the 60’s it was against the Vietnam War. “Hell no we won’t go” was our chant as we tried to convince the powers in Washington to stop sending our young men to war. We were passionate, angry, and felt powerless as individuals. Only as a group, marching down a NYC street, doing sit-ins at public places and parading our placards in the plaza by the UN did we feel anyone could be heard. Even our teachers turned a blind eye to our cutting classes. We were loud, we were filled with passion, but we were peaceful. We stayed on topic and did not harass those who disagreed with us.

Part of being a citizen in this great country is the right to protest, to voice dissenting opinion, to speak our minds for or against something. It is a right that the young people who are now gathering on the streets in so many cities across the country are heir to. But the operative word for these protests is “peaceful”. You can be angry and loud, but you don’t destroy property, physically attack someone who disagrees with you, or shout racial slurs. So far most of the protesters just want their fears heard. But those who have gone down the slippery slope of violence, have violated this sacred right.

It is important that this fearful minority are listened to. Words matter, as we saw all too clearly during the presidential campaign. It was all those words spoken by the candidates that planted these fears into the minds of the listeners. It was also words spoken that motivated so many to make their choice once inside the voting booth. And sometimes words NOT spoken can be just as powerful in creating a tsunami of fears of the unknown.

So protesters, keep shouting, keep holding up your signs, let our new president elect know what is troubling you. But respect your fellow Americans even if their words conflict with yours.

And President Elect Trump, I would ask that you take some time out of your busy schedule to listen to what these protesters are saying. You made a good effort in your interview on 60 Minutes Sunday when you did reassure people that some of their fears were unfounded. Especially when you revealed that you did not agree with messages of hatred and racism. However, fear does not go away through the speaking of a few words. It will take action to prove that the words of your current messages are true, but for now we are weeks away from that time when you can act. But you still can use words, now and in the weeks to come, to reach out to all. Repeating messages containing words of reassurance will set their minds at ease.

Words matter, as the drafters of our Constitution knew only too well!

Quote of the week

Posted: November 4, 2016 in Quotes
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“I am your nightmare dressed like a daydream” – Taylor Swift