You knew it, right?  You’ve been wondering – has Carl crossed over. Now he finally admits it. I can hear it now – “See Ethel, I told you the boy had lost it. He’s gone and converted. Became a Mohammadan.  A jihad-er.  Darn, we lost him. And he was such a nice guy.”

Words are powerful. It seems that in our day of everyone-knowing-everything-that-everyone-is-thinking-and-doing, we have to define and re-define what we mean.  Remember when “gay” meant “happy.”  Or when you told your neighbors you were going church, they knew what you meant and thought it was nice.  Or when the word “Christian” meant someone who acted properly and did nice things for people, like mow their lawns.

I have friends in the Arab world who are from America and grew up in the Christian faith who would call themselves “Muslims.”  They reason that the word simply (and literally) means “one who submits to God.” And they do, so they are.  Or…are they?   Depends on who’s doing the defining.

The two greatest principles of communication are: what do I mean when I say something and what do you hear when I say something.  What I mean and what you hear are often different – thus a lack of communication ensues.

I can insist that when I say “I feel gay today” that I simply mean what the word ORIGINALLY meant. I’m happy. I can keep on doing that if I want to.  My guess is, it won’t really work.  I can keep calling myself a “Christian” and simply HOPE that people understand what I am, but I doubt it’s gonna be all that helpful.  I can call myself a Muslim in Muslim lands and think to myself I’m simply one who submits to God, but I know that’s not what my hearers are thinking I mean.

So what to do in this age of over-communication (that often doesn’t actually communicate)?  I suggest we think of these three things when we speak of anything potentially controversial or complicated:

  1. Be sensitive to the hearers.  Place yourself in their shoes. Ask questions to fully understand where they’re coming from and how they might hear (feel) what you’re about to say.
  2. Avoid one-word terms.  Or at least if you use them, define them. Words like “conservative” or “liberal” or “church” or “Christian” or “bible” or “evangelical” don’t really communicate that well these days. Be skeptical of your ability to really say what you mean by using a one word term.  I prefer to not use words like that at all, but rather explain what I mean in 2 or 3 sentences.
  3. Ask the hearer if they caught what you said after you say it. Don’t assume.  You know what ass-u-me…ing does.    🙂

Are you a good communicator or just a good talker?  I’ve done both. Talking is easy. Actually communicating takes a lot of work.  I’m up to about 20% on actually communicating – but working on it.  Join me….