What is it that makes human beings unique? What sets us apart from the animals? (other than opposable thumbs of course…). I suggest that when God made us, he gave us the ability to do something really valuable that the animals can’t, at least not to the extent that we can. Be fruitful and multiply? Nope. Subdue the Earth? Not exactly. String together thoughts, syllables, and phonemes? Bingo.
Communicating, in all its forms, is distinctly human, and that fact should affect us on a daily basis.
Let me explain how.
Does it bother you when you don’t receive a timely response? You know what I’m talking about: You send a text message, an email, or make a phone call, only to wait…and wait…and wait for a response. You know the person got it. How couldn’t they? Unless they are boycotting technology (or you!) they most certainly saw it, read it, or heard it. “At least acknowledge that you got it, would ya?” Have you had this conversation in your head? I have it from time to time, and I don’t think I’m alone. I’d also like to think that I’ve determined to be different, and yet I’ve ignored phone calls, withheld responses, and delayed text-backs for wrong reasons. What am I doing when I do this?
I am exercising control that God didn’t intend for me to have.
I’m waiting until I’m good and ready. I’m making that person wait on me, not me on them. I have the upper hand and I’m not letting go of it before I must! However, I have to ask myself, am I embracing God’s sense of what makes one fully human: Simply the ability to communicate? The greatest insult I can hurl, and wrongly so, is to dehumanize another. To discount their worthiness of what God says they are worthy of: Communication.
Getting no message is a message.
There are obviously times when delayed communication is appropriate. Technology, for example, should not become a tether or an addiction, so there are certainly times to unplug and ignore. If communication suffers for that reason, so be it.
We should make a point to cause our kids to remember our smiles and wrinkles better than the hue of a screen sprayed across our vacant faces.
Know when to put it away. And then there’s also those nastygrams that if we responded to promptly there would most certainly be regret. A delayed response in those circumstances is probably prudent. Better to bite my tongue or tie my fingers than respond in haste. Yet when I respond to communication, even with people I don’t want to communicate with, I am calling them what God has called them: Human. I may not like them, but I like God, and so I choose to communicate with His other creatures. It’s been said that “To err is human, to forgive divine.” To coin this phrase, we could say “To hear is human, to speak divine”. Just as I can show great disdain by withholding communication, I can also show great respect by responding promptly when I’m able. After all, what is more human than to travel the two-way street called Communication?
Here are a few strategies I practice to make sure those I communicate with know I appreciate them as a fellow human being:
- Respond in full sentences. Nothing says “I don’t have time for you” like a response with abbreviations or chat lingo. This also goes a long way in showing that you are indeed smarter than a fifth grader and worthy of being communicated with yourself. Drop the shorthand, remember the punctuation, and take the time. They’re worth it.
- Ease tension with a word of gratitude. Nothing dispels strife better than a soft answer, and every living person likes to be thanked, even when they’ve done something thankless. My favorite opening line when responding to a nastygram is “Hello, and thanks for the note.” I have to swallow some pride to write that. There are several other more colorful things I’d prefer to say, but the rest of my message is more wisely-written and probably better-received for it. In the words of a friend: “You don’t have to like them, they just need to think that you do.” Begin humbly.
- Buy some time. Most people are on the go throughout the day, and so there is not always time for a lengthy, well-thought out response. In these cases, I send a quick note acknowledging and appreciating the communication and giving some indication that a more cogent response will follow. The recipient appreciates knowing that they’ve at least made a connection and that you’re mulling over what they had to say. How do I know this? Because it’s how I feel when it’s done to me. Prioritize prompt when you can’t be complete.
The main objective is not always what is communicated but that it is communicated. Is no news really good news? No one really enjoys the anxiety of not knowing, and the same is true of communication. We’d all rather know that our message was received than to believe it was left dangling. Was the most basic element of our humanity wasted on a fellow human?