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Learning to communicate [again] - finding fruit 

The lack of in-person meeting has meant we have forgotten how to communicate with understanding. Inspired by the book of Galatians, here are some things to keep in mind as we begin to see one another again. By Claire Nicholls


A baby cries. Why are they crying? Is it because they are hungry? Is it because they need changing? Is it because they are in pain? Or is it just because they want attention and you were doing something else? Even from birth, humans are difficult to interpret. Even if we know the human well, interpreting what they mean can be hard work. And those we have never met in person.... well they are another story! 

And the pandemic - it's made it more difficult. It's affected all of our thinking patterns, our sense of self worth and our reactionary behaviour. Even the most level headed and mild mannered of people can find themselves, right now, going into a rage over something as small as a can of beans in the wrong place on the shelf. Even the most emotionally stable person has found themselves falling apart when the person who just walked past them has forgotten that masks go over their nose. 

The lack of in person meeting has meant that we have forgotten how to communicate with understanding. When meetings are functional and faces are the only thing to be seen, if that, how can we know what is going on in somebody's reaction to something we said or did? When the only place we know people is when profiles meet in a Facebook group, how can we make assumptions as to what their comment means? 

Yet we do, then we shout, and even the gentlest of us suddenly finds ourselves accusing others of all sorts, and we lose sleep and we throw things and we label that person as a..... pick your words carefully here. 

It's difficult to know what is causing the crying if we don't try and find out. The problem with people we do not see or even know in real life is that we also, quite often, don't try and find out either. 

The anthropologist Clifford Geertz talks about when we see someone whose eyelid is flickering up and down, we need to know something more about why that is happening before we react to what might only be described as a wink. Are they winking at us or is it directed to someone else? Are they trying to get a message across and what is it? Is it part of the established social code or is it just that they've got some dust in their eye? 

It's complicated. Yet misunderstandings come from not understanding that what someone might say or do might be meant in a different way to how we initially interpret it. 

Our reactions to people in person seem to be missing this and are becoming more like pre-pandemic reactions to people online. And our reactions to people online.... they're becoming, frankly, in some cases, from people who in normal circumstances do know better, appalling. The pandemic has made us all act weird.

As we try and find this road out of the pandemic and see one another again, there are some things we need to do as we learn to communicate again. In fact these things are not new, they just need to be relearnt (see Galatians 5:22). 

Look at the person you are talking to as someone who is made in the image of God and love them like God does. That will help turn them from enemy into something better. 

Seek to be a person of peace. Don't seek out arguments for the sake of argument, but look for ways ahead. Compromise. Agree to disagree. Don't assume that someone is thinking what you think they're thinking. Be still. Pause for a moment. Or many moments. Then seek peace. 

Be faithful to who you are. If the behaviour you are exhibiting would be behaviour you would condemn in others, then ask yourself what is causing you to act in this way. If that behaviour is unusual for you, ask someone to help you work out how to deal with all you are struggling with. Be faithful to God who made you and looked on you and saw you as good. 

Find joy and seek goodness. We have lost laughter and joy from our lives. Seek the places where you find it again. Spend time with those who make you laugh and deliberately let it all out in laughter, not shouting. Find joy in the people you meet. Whatever is good in your and others' lives, celebrate that. Don't dwell on the bad stuff. 

Be gentle and patient. We're all grieving, hurting, in pain right now. Recognise that some might not be fully themselves and be patient with them. Be people that exercise grace in difficult situations and recognise that sometimes healing takes time. 

Act with self control. Think before you speak. Try not to react in a way that hurts other people. Recognise the need for anger, but don't direct to the wrong places. Don't scapegoat all your frustrations onto another person. Check your behaviour. Always. And apologise when apologies are needed. 

And be kind. Always. Just be kind. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others. We cannot know for sure what is behind the behaviour of others, but we can control our own behaviour - and that - that will make the world a better place. 

A baby cries - why are they crying? We don't know, but we wouldn't leave them to just cry not knowing. We'd go over to their cot, we'd look, we'd perhaps lift them up, and we would remember and think about what was good about them. We'd likely cuddle them, smell them, try and understand them, and then, we'd do what we needed to do. 

A human being stands in front of you, in person, online, however they stand - why are they acting in the way they are? We don't know, but we can try and understand them. Then we can do what we need to do. Just be kind. 

"Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realised. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies"     
Philippians 4:8-9 The Message 

Image | David Fartek | Unsplash

Claire Nicholls is minister of New Addington Baptist Church, South London. This reflection originally appeared on her blog and is republished with permission 


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Baptist Times, 05/05/2021
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