a brief history of communication*

communicate

Technological advances have provided us with so many new ways of communicating with each other. It probably started with Thag and Ug gesticulating to each other and making sounds that they mimicked – gradually evolving into a spoken and comprehensible language. Cave paintings at that time of history were perhaps the earliest form of strategy planning – this is what we are looking for and we’re all going to attack it when we see it.

But Thag and Ug could only communicate with each other when within earshot. Maybe blowing into an animal horn or big shell helped with vague instructions and rallying calls, but you still had to be able to hear. Until some bring spark (!) invented fire and then we had the possibility of warning beacons and someone else thought about making smoke signals.

Technological advances from this point onwards seem to have been accelerating at an almost exponential rate. Written language (and the invention of the quill and paper) enabled people to write things down and send them to someone else, perhaps attached to a person or a pigeon (which also provided a tasty snack for the reader). Semaphore and flags enabled more specific communication over distances.

Books and then the printing press were a quantum leap in mass-communication – enabling more people to read the same thing. (Assuming they had been taught to read).The invention of the tin can, coupled with string, gave a brief opportunity for people to speak to each other over distances – limited only by the length of the string and how empty the can was.

And then telegraphs and telegrams and telephones meant that you could speak to anyone, anywhere (so long as they also had access to a receiving unit). Radio enabled longer distance communication without the need for long wires. The next step from radio is television where you can see the person speaking to you.

Innovations on these themes led to satellite communications to speak in (almost) real time around the world. For a while we had pagers (remember them) enabling people to send us a message when we were not at home or in the office. Computers and the Internet then created a whole new way of communicating (email) and bringing that together with the phone produced mobile phones and texting. Video conferencing expanded rapidly at this time, and the ability to create simple websites meant that almost anyone could put their opinions out there for anyone to see: people have visited this blog from almost every country on the planet!

And yet, with all of the technology that we have now, and with all of the innovations that will come, nothing actually beats Thag and Ug in each other’s presence communicating face to face. If you want to communicate best with someone it’s best to be in their presence.

And so, dear bloggists, I give you the reason for Christmas: if you want to communicate best with someone it’s best to be in their presence (cue sounds of a baby being born)…

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I don’t claim any particular expertise in this area. Don’t rely on this as rigorously researched wisdom, it’s light-hearted speculation to make a point!

the parable of the misunderstood inattention

Crazy Little Game Called... FootballA long time ago, in a football league far far away, I played for my church football team. I was still a teenager and had not yet settled on the idea of being a goalkeeper, but rather fancied myself as the next Paul Mariner*. I read lots of books about playing football, about tactics, skills and training. I used to spend hours kicking a football against a wall at home: practicing my shooting accuracy and ability to control the ball when it bounced back.

I used to train with my church football team, who played in the local league. And just occasionally, when they were desperate, I would get a game. I can remember the joy I experienced when I was picked, the enthusiastic running around that I did, and the happiness when the manager had substituted all of the players he could substitute during the match and I was still on the pitch!

There was one occasion I can remember when I was in the opposing penalty area and the ball rebounded towards me. My team mates were shouting at me to control the ball before hitting it, but I had memories of slamming a football against the wall at home and was confident that I would be able to slam it into the back of the net. I ran towards the ball and thundered it high and wide. You can draw your own conclusions about why I developed into a goalkeeper. It may have something to do with me never scoring a goal, but I am not sure.

But the occasion that I am using as a parable came about because I had read in one of my many football tactics books that you could lull the opposition into thinking you weren’t a threat by behaving as if you were disinterested with the game. You would wander around, not looking at what was happening. You would not put your hand up or shout for the ball to be passed to you. You would look not pay attention. Except that in reality you were. You were watching with your peripheral vision and when the defenders had decided that you were not a threat you would burst into action, call for the ball, run past the surprised defence and slot the ball past the unsuspecting goalkeeper.

To me this sounded like an excellent idea and I resolved to try it in the next game I played. There was one flaw in my otherwise foolproof plan, but I will come back to that. It was not long before the team was desperate enough for me to be picked again and I was delighted to find that they had put me up front again (now I wonder whether that was to keep me as far away from our goal as possible). The match started and I did my best not to look interested. I tried not to look as if I was paying attention to what was happening in the rest of the game. I wandered around aimlessly. I did not look at what was happening. I did not put my hand up or shout for the ball. And the defenders started to ignore me. It was working!

Then (and this is where the flaw comes in) the captain of our team shouted at me to pay attention and get involved in the match.The flaw was that I had not warned my team that this is what I would be doing! My plan had been so good and my acting so believable that I had even fooled my own team and the captain’s shouting had drawn the defenders’ attention back to me. I felt disappointed that my team captain would shout at me and think I was not interested, but then realised that I could not blame him because he didn’t know what I was doing – I had assumed that he would realise that my apparent inattention was part of a cunning plan.

How often is that true? How often do we assume that other people know what we are thinking and why we are doing things? How often are misunderstandings caused by a failure to communicate clearly (or at all)? Nobody (regardless of what their publicity says) is actually a mind-reader.

Writing at one of the first Churches, Paul had these words of advice (1 Thessalonians 5:11ff, NIRV):

“So encourage one another with the hope you have. Build each other up. In fact, that’s what you are doing.12 Brothers and sisters, we ask you to accept the godly leaders who work hard among you. They care for you in the Lord. They correct you. 13 Have a lot of respect for them. Love them because of what they do. Live in peace with one another. 14 Brothers and sisters, we are asking you to warn certain people. These people don’t want to work. Instead, they make trouble. We are also asking you to encourage those who have lost hope. Help those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that no one pays back one wrong act with another. Instead, always try to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus.”

The passage speaks of what to do with those who are not engaged with what is happening but if you look at all of the advice it all presupposes good communication, doesn’t it? Very few of those things can happen if people don’t talk with one another and God!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*For those uneducated people among you, this is Paul Mariner’s Wikipedia entry.

communication

A piece of advice we were given before we got married was ‘always kiss each other goodnight’. As well as being romantic, it also ensures that there are no lasting grievances between you that are unresolved at the end of the day. Good advice I think – it’s worked for us for 25 years.

A couple had an argument that was unresolved. They were still not talking to each other when the husband stomped off to bed early because he had to get up to catch a flight. He knew his wife was always up early so he wrote a note and left it on her pillow:

“Wake me up at seven.”

He went to sleep and when he woke up the next day he was alarmed and then angry when he saw that the time was nine o’clock!

Then he noticed a note on his pillow:

“Wake up!”

I felt a little bit like that this morning. I have been expecting a delivery and it was coming by tracked mail. This morning, at 6.26, an email arrived in my inbox telling me that the parcel had arrived at the Colchester delivery office and would be delivered today. While I was still sleeping, blissfully unaware of this, an attempt was made to deliver the parcel. Thankfully my wife was up and able to sign for the parcel.

If the purpose of the email was to alert me that the parcel could be delivered today and to be ready for it, it failed. It was only Sally’s internal alarm clock that meant someone was ready to receive it.

How often do we fail to communicate with people? We think we have, but effective communication requires effective delivery and receipt. We might ping off an email but if it is not read it is useless. We might send a text message but if the phone is switched off it is not received. We could write a bloggage but if nobody reads it it’s just words on a website. We might talk to someone but if they are not listening then we might a well not have said anything.

I wonder if that’s how God feels sometimes about us. He tries to communicate in so many different ways, but if we are not switched on, listening, reading, alert or waiting to encounter him then there has not been effective communication. I think we all know which end of the line is at fault!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

1001 a blog oddity

Not much happened.

I posted my 1000th item on my blog and there was no fanfare, no fireworks display, no laser show. I did get an automated message from WordPress congratulating me on having 1000 posts, but other than that not much happened.

I wasn’t expecting anything to happen. Indeed the message from WordPress, automated as it was, was an unexpected bonus. And yet…

…and yet the fact that not much happened felt a bit anti-climactic. It felt as if someone important had forgotten my birthday. I think the problem is that to me the milestone of the 1000th bloggage felt significant but to everyone else it did not have the same level of significance. In fact to everyone else it was irrelevant, unimportant, insignificant.

I wonder if sometimes we have that problem with other people. We, or they, build something up in our mind to be much more important than the other person does. To one person it is of great significance and to the other it is of little interest. And that is a recipe for disappointment, disharmony or even worse.

So how do we avoid that? I suspect that a significant part of the answer is in effective communication. While I can perform ‘mind reading illusions’ I find it very hard to read people’s minds in normal circumstances. Indeed all of us have that problem: knowing what someone is thinking is very difficult, if not impossible, if they do not tell us what they are thinking.

Can you blame someone for failing to understand that we have attached greater or lesser significance to something than they have if we have not told them about it?

And even though God knows our thoughts even before we have been able to articulate them ourselves, if we don’t articulate them to him in prayer and listen for his response it’s hardly surprising when our plans and his don’t coincide either.

It is said that God gave us two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak. Actually he gave us two ears so we can find it much easier to locate the direction from which a sound is emanating. I think the lesson from having two ears and one mouth is not so much about how much we listen, but about whether or not we focus our attention on someone else and communicate effectively with them.

And the art of good communication is that it is two way. We need to be open, honest, available to listen, sensitive, interested in the other person, willing to be flexible, responsive and honest. That is in both speaking and listening.

Yes I know I wrote ‘honest’ twice. That’s because we need to be very honest with each other if we are to communicate effectively!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

and the winner is…

Woohoo.

Our church notice sheet has won an award! You can see details here or download the weekly sheet here by clicking on the image of the sheet and then the link on the following page. It is particularly encouraging because we have taken steps this year to improve it to make it easier to read, more attractive and blend with our ‘corporate identity’ (ie in line with our logo colour scheme, the website and so on). We took the decision to print it in colour each week because it’s the item most people take away from our church after attending a service and so will be part of the lasting impression for newcomers.

We have a small team of editors (on a rota basis) who work with our church office to put this information out each week and maintain the look of the sheet at the same time. Sometimes, because of the amount of information to include, they manage to squeeze a quart into a pint pot and still manage to make it look good.

Two things come to mind this morning (in addition to pride). One is that it is always really nice when someone recognises and appreciates your work, especially when you have worked hard to improve something. How did you feel the last time someone said, ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’? How can you pass that on to someone else today?

The second thought is to be reminded about how important communication is, especially in churches. Last night we had a special Deacons’ Meeting where we looked at some of the things that might potentially hamper people from coming to faith and growing in faith at our church, and how we might improve things. Communication came out high on the list of things we need to improve.

Now that we have an award-winning news sheet we need to make sure that we continue to put relevant and helpful information in it, but we can’t assume that we have communicated. We put notices on the screens in the church before the service starts, but again we can’t assume that we have communicated with people through them. For communication to be effective it needs to be well-presented and interesting enough for people to pay attention, relevant and (perhaps most importantly) received and understood. The problem we have is that the latter two are outside of our control!

We can do our best to ensure that we share information (and especially the good news about Jesus) as relevantly, engagingly and attractively as possible but if someone is disinterested, too busy to pay attention (or asleep) then we will not have succeeded in communicating effectively.

Is there a crucial tip to be able to do that? Well there are thousands of books that have been written on the subject, so it may be presumptious of me to suggest that there is, but I think (and it was reinforced last night) that there is. It’s this:

Personal communication is more effective than mass communication.

An invitation extended by a friend is more likely to be communicated effectively than a notice on a screen or a news sheet. An explanation by one individual to another is more likely to address the questions of the second person because it can be more accurately tailored to them than any sermon can (subject to God’s intervention through the sermon).

Good, effective communication is the responsibility of every one of us. If we leave it to screens, pieces of paper or even websites (which can all be useful) we will leave a lot of people feeling bewildered, unwelcome or disengaged. (I wonder how many of the people who clicked onto this page have left before they get to this point?)

Be blessed, be a blessing

A classic joke about sermons… (I may start a home for retired jokes soon)

A preacher, who shall we say was “humour impaired,” attended a conference to help encourage and better equip pastors for their ministry. Among the speakers were many well known and dynamic speakers.

One such boldly approached the pulpit and, gathering the entire crowd’s attention, said, “The best years of my life were spent in the arms of another man’s wife!”

The crowd was shocked! He followed up by saying, “And that woman was my mother!”

The crowd burst into laughter and delivered the rest of his talk, which went over quite well.

The next week, the pastor decided he’d give this humour thing a try, and use that joke in his sermon. As he approached the pulpit that sunny Sunday, he tried to rehearse the joke in his head. It suddenly seemed a bit foggy to him.

Getting to the microphone he said loudly, “The greatest years of my life were spent in the arms of another man’s wife!”

The congregation inhaled half the air in the room. After standing there for almost 10 seconds in the stunned silence, trying to recall the second half of the joke, the pastor finally blurted out, “…and for the life of me I can’t remember who she was!”