Failure to Communicate

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When we fight, we fail to communicate. We think we are right, so we argue our point to the other person. We genuinely think we know what is true, but we do not always know, especially when it comes to literally everything. However, God knows all. Maybe it is time to stop talking, start praying, and let God sort out the other person’s behavior.

I saw something I had written down long ago, stressing all day about someone who was giving me a tough time. A book popped up out of nowhere that said give it to God. I wanted to throw my phone across the room. Are you kidding me, how could I? This was too important. If I got this wrong, what would happen to me? In my mind, it was if God was not completely aware of what was going on. How wrong could that be?

When we are thoroughly convinced of something, it is hard to receive any more input on the subject. Our brains tend to override our thinking and flush out everything that does not sit well with our beliefs. Obviously, those idiots did not hear the valuable words offered during the argument, so we feel the urgent need to express them much louder. Why else would they not hear them? We feel obligated to make sure they fully understand our point of view.

The trouble is, as much as we think we know how to communicate, we do not. This is why we need an advocate; someone who knows the other person better than we do and even better than they know themselves. It is God who knows their thoughts and hearts; plus, yours also. What better way to bridge the gap of understanding between two people, especially those in conflict with each other.

Do all that you can up to a certain point, at which the hardest part becomes letting go of the rest and trusting God to bridge the gap.

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Isolated but not Alone

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I’ve been reading some blog posts from others and over the past two months, for obvious reasons, there has been an increase in anxiety. At the present time, anxiety can thrive because most people are practicing some form of social distancing. It might be worse for the ones who are alone, as they find themselves in a strange isolation, unlike any other. One problem with isolation is that it separates us from the group. There is a lot that can be said about herd mentality, but the simple truth is most of us are social beings. We like to be around others, in varying degrees of quantity influenced by our personality.

In prison, one of the forms of punishment is solitary confinement. The guards lock up the prisoner, away from everyone else. Why would anyone dread being locked away from others so much? I can say after living through this lockdown, isolated from everyone, I am getting only a taste of what it would be like. The prisoners have it far worse because they do not have access to what we do. Can you imagine what living through this would be like without the internet? Without phones to call and text each other? Technology gets a bad reputation for distancing us from each other, and quite frankly there is a great amount of truth in that. But who would have known how it would grant us access to one another in a time like this? I certainly didn’t see this coming.

Many employees are working from home and learning how to conduct meetings online. Some are already accustomed to doing this, but the rest are learning new ways to communicate. People are connecting to different regions throughout the world in a way they never thought possible. Apps are being created to unite groups of people in new ways. There are so many platforms we can use to guard ourselves from isolation.

The responsibility ultimately lies on us to prevent ourselves from being totally isolated. We must reach out to each other and connect; just not physically. I believe in the power of words. They have power to make or break us. As such, they can be used to build up what anxiety has been trying to tear down. Thoughtfulness is another tool we can use to stay connected. I know it is old fashioned, but whenever I get a card or letter from someone, it means so much to me. Not the card itself, but the fact that they took the time to go buy a card and selected a message that felt appropriate. It shows that the person cared, enough to do something about it.

There are so many ways to reach out and love someone, not in a creepy way though! Find a way today to let someone know you care.

Am I your Mirror?

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Whenever we are interacting with others, how they treat us greatly impacts the way we treat them and vice versa. Not always, but for this reason people often resemble mirrors. I don’t think we try to be that way. But how we are treated greatly influences our behavior, so much that we are tempted to mirror the other person. If an argument breaks out and one person starts yelling, it isn’t long before all the voices are raised. When a person is calm and soft spoken, that tends to set the tone in the opposite way.

It is a strange thing how our response is often amplified, whether in a good or bad way. It’s like saying to the other person, I will show you! If they treat us good, we treat them better. If they buy us a gift, we buy them something nicer in return. On the flip side, when they hurt us we want to hurt them back. Ignore me for a few minutes? I will ignore you for an entire day! You hit me; I will hit you back even harder! This is one reason they recommend not fighting fire with fire because it only spreads.

As good to others as we think we are, we still fall short in how we treat others. Many people try to follow the golden rule in Mat 7:12 where it talks about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. I’ve also heard other variations of this rule found in other religions. I even heard an atheist talk about a rule he followed, which was to treat others as they would have you treat them. The point is people simply want to be treated well. Treating others well is profound wisdom to follow but it isn’t easy. The moment our emotions get involved; it seems like we lose our minds! The good news is emotions can be controlled.

Try paying attention, if only for a day. Observe every interaction with other people. Whenever your encounter with another person seems a little off, think about whether you are the mirror, or if they are yours. One of you is at the root of the negative interaction. One has to change. Who knows, if you take the first step in the right direction, they might follow behind with the second!

A Life of Excellence, part 3

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I’ve been writing off and on for most of my life, although most written works were short. In college, I had to take an English literature class, which further ignited my sense of wonder in writing. I started to toy around with the idea, but nothing ever amounted to it. Several more years passed when I got word from the community college that I started out in. It was summer then and they were having a Writers Conference. The event listed a famous author that was known worldwide.

Although it was not my genre of reading or writing, I decided to attend the three-day conference. When I looked over the Itinerary, there were several genres represented by different authors who were speaking at the event. In some sessions we all sat together in the auditorium, listening to the main guest speaker. Afterward, we broke up into smaller groups, focusing on select topics. Some of the topics I had already learned about in school. However, the speakers focused specifically on how to make our work better. They were definitely crunch sessions where we crammed as much information into our brains as possible. In between the sessions, while on break, I started writing some small pieces of fiction.

By this time in my life I was in university, but also working full time. I left the event feeling overly excited, but soon found my way back to what I considered my present reality. During the next year, I found myself writing small works of fiction. The conference returned the following year and I went again and learned about new topics. The excitement was reignited once more, but history repeated itself. It wasn’t long before I found myself back into a busy lifestyle. Life has a way of piling things on us to make sure we never experience liftoff.

Finally, a few years ago, I decided to write my first book. It was the first time I ever seriously considered it. I had started many different stories, I just wanted to finish one of them. I finally focused on one particular story and wrote it out it as a short story. I asked my friend to look it over and give an opinion. What came next, I did not expect, constructive criticism. After a thorough review, in the best way possible, thoughts were shared. What was said and what I heard, were orders of magnitude apart from one another. They might as well tell me that the whole thing was trash. We even got into a bit of an argument. It turns out I did not like criticism. I was terribly angry and crumpled up the pages. These words are still stuck in my head to this day, “I will never write another story.”

After I came down from this “personal attack,” I began to listen to the wisdom being shared. Eventually this stubborn hater of criticism went back to work on the story. We worked through the plot, worldbuilding, and a great deal of character development. After the holes were filled in, the story was transformed something altogether better. They knew me long enough to know that the story was not my best effort and they told me so. Deep down inside, I knew they were right. I think this is partly why I went on to fix the story. The truth was I just wanted to finish a story so bad that I was willing to turn in anything. That became the starting point at which my excellence in writing began. I better understood that writing conveys a message and words are used to communicate. Living a life of excellence means you have to continually improve upon your best. Before long, I realized a reader deserves the absolute best an author has to give. Anything less is unacceptable.

Keep Away!

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Social distancing has become popular since the spread of a new virus. I am accustomed to shaking hands with many people I know, either during a greeting or as a means of saying congratulations. I recently heard the announcement of someone who made plans to retire in the near future. After bumping into him later, I extended my hand out to shake his. It took me back to a moment in time when my childhood friend extended their hand and then yanked it backward before the handshake. Too slow! Of course, this man was not being silly, but exercising caution.

It’s easy to become offended these days by anyone’s actions or words. It is understandable that no one wants to get sick, especially since it’s been said there is a higher risk with age. I didn’t take offense and was happy to talk for a few minutes and congratulate him verbally. The more places I have been over the last two weeks, I’ve noticed a big trend. People are keeping at a distance from one another. The world is plastered with technology that has already widened the gap between people. Add to it now, people are scared to be close to one another. What little sense of community seems to be gone. Some of my encounters in public have almost caused me to believe this was true.

During a recent trip to a local business, I had an undesirable experience. I scheduled the appointment, and purposely asked for the person that I worked with last year. I was surprised when someone else came to the front desk. Normally I shake hands, but obviously I didn’t this time. The young man that provided the service barely spoke to me during the whole appointment. There was no use of humor or friendliness. It was all business. Many of my interactions since at businesses and stores have been similarly cold.

I understand that given the circumstances, it calls for keeping at a distance from each other. But just because we have to keep at a distance from each other doesn’t mean we have to be distant in every sense of our encounters. We enjoy being with people that have a knack for using the right words around us. By spending a few minutes with them, a person can walk away feeling better about themselves or about their day. If you don’t have the knack, it would be well worth trying to figure it out. If you are playing it safe by distancing yourself physically away from others, remember you don’t have to distance yourself emotionally from everyone. If anything is to be contagious, let it be some good vibes!

Silence after Prayer

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Just because it is silent after a prayer doesn’t mean God is not listening. Nor does it mean God approves of what it is you are praying for. In the rush of decision making nowadays, we want an answer immediately. As a Christian though, I want to pray about decisions before making them, especially for the larger ones. On the surface, this seems like the right thing to do. However, praying before doing is actually the easy part because it is routine.

The difficult part often comes next, if that is, you actually wait for an answer. If you are like me, many times you only wait five minutes. If not given an answer in that amount of time, then certainly God must be okay with it, right? If it were only that easy. However, it usually never is. Sometimes we allow the noise around us to overtake the still small voice inside us. How would you feel if you were trying to speak, and someone continually allowed your voice to be drowned out? What if you were trying to speak to them and they suddenly turned up volume of the radio or television?

It would be downright arrogant and foolish to think that God always sided with our decisions. The sad part of it is, we always hold Him accountable for when it doesn’t work out right. Sometimes I wonder, if right before we’re about to do something stupid, God whispers not to do it. Then, when we panic in our own foolishness, God waits for us to seek Him out for the answer. In the meantime, we turn to everything under the sun, which He created, for answers. Finally, at the end of it all, we say, “I guess all we can do now is pray.”

That attitude about prayer makes me cringe. What makes me angrier, is that I’ve said it myself. For me, I genuinely believe in the God I am praying to, which in effect means I believe in the power of prayer. Prayer is difficult to explain to someone who has never done it before. I have a friend from China that once commented that praying was like talking to the air. If you stop and think about it, talking literally is – talking to the air. The difference is in who you think is listening or not.

When you talk out loud to another person, there are various kinds of responses they could give. If they were in another room and you spoke out loud, if no response came, would you assume no one was there? If you heard an audible voice, you would know someone was there even though you could not see them. If a person was far enough away, you could still see them, but no longer hear them. If you were flying high in a plane, you would not see, hear, or be able to touch them; yet there they could be.

Last night, I was driving and saw a young man parked next to the road standing next to a monument of flowers at a place where he lost someone to a car accident. In a moment’s notice, I was touched by his pain. The man was completely unaware of me yet reached inside my soul and grabbed my heart and gave it a squeeze. I turned the radio off and prayed for him.

Crying eyes communicate sorrow. A genuine smile communicates joy and happiness. The point is, there are tons of ways to communicate but it takes a great deal of effort to learn how. Imagine how hard it would be to communicate your thoughts, feelings, and desires if you only knew ten words. When you know twenty thousand words, you can tell a different story. But to learn that many words, one must get ready for a long learning curve! If you sincerely desire to communicate with another, then you will put forth the effort to do so.

When reading the Bible, it tells me about who God is. When I read the New Testament, it tells of God took on the human form as Jesus. He walked among us, talked with us, cried with us, and gave us hope. He healed the sick and blind, and set captives free. He blessed the poor and meek in spirit. He preached that there was a way of restoration to the precious relationship with God the Father, and that He was that way.

In the mornings, I see the glory of a new sunrise. I witness the uniqueness of every living organism scattered throughout the earth, some of which the human eye still has not witnessed. At night I look toward the heavens and witness the vastness of an unimaginable universe filled with galaxies and stars. Meanwhile the moon perfectly balances out our planet, controlling the tides of the oceans. Under a microscope, a whole new world explodes right before my eyes on a cellular level. When a snowflake falls, while I no longer eat them on my tongue, I do marvel at the level of such exquisite detail that is put into something that seconds later disintegrates.

Why would the Creator of all things do things this way? Why put so much complexity into literally every material thing humanity would spend thousands of years trying to comprehend? Why create a universe driven, bound and balanced by laws, in a perfect, intricate balance? I suppose those things matter to God. Maybe they matter to us, whether we realize it or not. When I read the Bible and it tells me that this unmatched force that exists, not bound by time nor space, wanted to have a personal relationship with me through Jesus, I had to explore what that would mean. I set out on a course to know who Jesus was. It took years but I realized that I want to spend the rest of my life in pursuit of Him! Nothing else compares and never before have my expectations been so wildly exceeded for a fulfilled life.

If you hear silence after prayer, do not stop praying. Jeremiah 29:11 is a popular verse in scripture. Verses 12 and 13 take it further by saying that God will listen to prayer and when sought with all the heart, God will be found! To my friend from China… prayer is not speaking to the air, but to God that created it and everything along with it!

I Said This but Meant That

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Figuring out the true meaning of what someone else says should not be that difficult of a task if you’re both speaking the same language. However, one of the reasons I think confusion has manifested in my own life is because what I say and what I mean aren’t always the same. But I bet it’s similar for you as well. Why is that? For most of us, we come up with several reasons as to why there is a difference between what we say and what we mean. I think the greatest differences revolve around how we each think, in a particular case how men and women think differently.

How a question is asked can change the outcome of an answer before the other person even has a chance to think about the question. If the questioner seems genuinely uninterested, the chance for a positive answer is doomed from the start. If the questioner seems enthusiastic and intensely interested, leaning on the edge of their seat waiting to listen to our answer, it will make a significant difference.

How a question is answered also sets the direction of the conversation, or whether it becomes one at all. Weak answers show a lack of interest and willingness to participate in dialogue. The tone in which the answer is stated is also important. Body language tells the real story behind the answer. All these things have fascinated researchers that study why we do the things we do.

Part of me wonders why we don’t freely speak, exactly what it is we are thinking. For some people, it seems to be wired into who they are, and they do this naturally. They are brutally honest and not ashamed of it. But others wrestle with trying not to offend the other person. In the process of trying to avoid conflict, they avoid it while it’s in the infancy stage. Meanwhile, a storm brews beneath the surface, growing in magnitude the longer it goes unchecked. If ignored long enough, that conflict will burst out into the open.

While searching for the root of why we don’t say what we mean, I’ve contemplated whether much of it revolves around a single concern. Does the other person care? I said was fine, but I am really not, do they care enough to find out why? I said nothing was wrong, but do they care enough to dig beneath my shallow answer. Understand that we genuinely want others to show concern for us and when they do not, communication goes out the window, along with everything they say.

All this makes perfect sense, to us, that is! Therein lies a problem, it may not make sense at all to the other person. They are clearly, might I emphatically say, unable to live inside our heads. They cannot see our thoughts. As such, they are on a completely different wavelength. They have already lived out a completely distinct set of circumstances that day, prior to their interaction with you. Add to this they have their own emotions, wrapped around thoughts that might have absolutely nothing to do with ours.

Think about it this way. Say that an actor has been rehearsing a script for an important scene. They have been at it for hours and now, know it inside and out. They are so full of the script that when they show up to the scene, they are ready to go! However, when they encounter the actress who is part of that same scene, they are infuriated to find out she has not read the script. Isn’t this scene important to you at all, they wonder. The whole thing would cause a fight, when in reality, the director never gave the actress the script to begin with. How was she to know her part?

The truth of the matter is this. If we would be less mysterious in our communication, we’d save ourselves a lot of frustration and unnecessary drama. This is certainly not a pass to say exactly what is on your mind because that could cause trouble also. A perfect line exists somewhere in between where you can correctly say what you are really thinking. It may take work, but the effort will pay off in the amount of fights avoided. Having good relationships doesn’t mean running away from trouble and pretending it doesn’t exist. It means effectively communicating when trouble comes, to gain an understanding in what the other person is truly trying to say.

Airing out the Laundry

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Is it me or are more people getting far too comfortable airing out their dirty laundry in public? By asking this question, I’m not referring to hanging clothes on a clothesline. I am asking about the drama between two or more people and the comfort level they feel to freely share that mess with the public.

Think about when you once had a new relationship, got upset with what the other person did, and started complaining about them to your friends or family. You should have been on the defense side, defending the one you love. But rather, you unknowingly presented evidence, building a case against them. You convinced them why you should not stay with that person. Then, after you calmed down and were levelheaded again, those around you filled your mind with doubt toward your partner. They did not have the benefit of the countless hours you spent getting to know each other. All they had to go off was the evidence you presented them. My point is to be careful in how you treat those you care about. The world will likely treat them in the same way, but magnified. 

Recently, when I left a restaurant, there was a beautiful young woman standing outside the door. Unknowingly, I nearly hit her with the door because she was standing directly behind it with her arms crossed, furious. On the bench seat in front of her was a handsome young man. “You always do this,” he said scornfully. It was a familiar thought I too had in times past. I felt embarrassed for them because the people standing around waiting to be seated stared at them in judgment. Neither seemed to care and fiercely lashed out at each other.

No doubt things can be hard, not only during the dating phase but in marriage also. Even minor things, when not properly dealt with can become huge barriers between people. It builds up to the point of eruption, at which point the damage multiplies, often with terrible timing. It’s not just couples who air their dirty laundry though. Family and friends do it as well. One thing about images is they are hard to get out of our minds. Once we see an image, we may completely forget what things used to look like beforehand. We can only see what is right in front of us. By airing out our dirty laundry, it shows the world all the things we would not want to be communicated about ourselves and the people we care about.

I’ve seen daytime television shows that revel in this sort of drama. People tear away at each other; the way crows and buzzards peck away at dead carcasses along the roadside. The verbal savagery is too much for me to watch. I wonder how anyone involved retains any sense of dignity after public humiliation like that. It almost seems made up; too bizarre to be true.

But I wonder if this type of behavior has become so common that it is what we’ve come to expect out of each other. I hope not, for our sake and that of future generations. I pray that we would pay closer attention and catch things while they are small. Perhaps then the issues could be discussed privately with a level head and keep all parties from embarrassing themselves in public. Let’s hold to the value of dignity that each human being deserves. Even when we are at a low place and deserve to be humiliated, let us rather find mercy standing above us, ready to lift us up to a higher place.