I have very much come to realize lately that communication is becoming a lost art. It seems we are becoming less and less connected at a time when we have more and more ways to be connected. How can this be when we live in a world where everything is automated?
Less than 100 years ago, when my grandparents lived on their rural farm in Cushing, Minnesota, they relied on personal visits from friends, family and neighbors to keep them updated and connected to the happenings of the world. The time spent together over meals, doing chores, fishing on the lake or planting a field were opportunities to build relationships and directly communicate — face to face — with loved ones.
When my grandparents first brought their crank telephone into their humble home, it was placed in the house where anyone in the family could participate in the conversation. The “party line” was a means of connecting and communicating whether they liked it or not. Sometimes faraway neighbors knew of the business and happenings at the Gallus farm before family even did!
The phone brought the voices of family in distant towns and regions of the country right into the kitchen, so it seemed like everyone was in the same room again and no one was separated by distance or time.
Communication was planned and something to look forward to each and every week. These phone calls became an opportunity for families to gather together and neighbors to reconnect. News and experiences shared in that phone conversation were carried over into meals throughout the week and updates for friends after church.
A lost art
When I was a young girl, my parents taught me the art of letter writing, which I did with much enthusiasm. This was my way of communicating with family and friends during my studies in Kenya, as a student in Europe, working for the Forest Service in rural Montana and studying at a school away from my hometown, friends and family.
Recently, my mother gave me letters I wrote for my parents and grandparents over the years. Rereading them, I am again taken back to where I was physically, emotionally and spiritually at that time in my life. What I was trying to explain was happening from day to day, how I missed home cooked meals, how I missed my family and friends and couldn’t wait to see them all again. I still hold on to many of the letters I received from loved ones in my life. Their communication with me continues even though they might now be gone.
Because of understanding the necessity of communicating with others, I also made a strong effort to teach my children from the time they were very little of the importance of writing to family and friends as well as sending thank you notes for gifts and time received.
As I explained to them, what better gift than to receive a message of love and gratitude in the mail when we least expect it! Sometimes writing and expressing our feelings and emotions in a card, letter or phone call is the best way to communicate and open our heart to others.
Today, we have so many options available to help us communicate even better with our family, friends, those right next door and around the world. Unfortunately, we seem to be struggling with our ability to communicate with others, with ourselves and with God.
While living in a world of instant messaging, instant posts and instant gratification, we have forgotten how to be patient and just listen to what is going on around us and in our relationships with others. We have forgotten that “texting” isn’t truly communicating and spending time with someone in our lives.
When we send a text message or email, are we truthfully able to hear the joy in the voice of a friend as they share how the day went at their new job? Are we able to feel the burdens our brother or sister might be feeling as they deal with a health issue in their life? Can we sense the fear and touch the tear of a young woman concerned about her family and friends going without food and resources day after day?
This isn’t really communicating with and knowing someone because we don’t allow ourselves to get in the uncomfortable messiness of being in relationship and truly being with another. We have lost the personalness of being face to face with another human being. Lots can go unspoken and unsaid when we rely on these as our only forms of communication.
It takes two
Good communication requires commitment and investment — no matter how busy you might be, no matter how tired you might be, no matter how bad your day was, no matter how much time it might take, no matter if it makes you uncomfortable.
I know I’m not perfect at it. Sometimes I see the number of the person calling and I only have five minutes to talk and I know they will want 25 of my minutes! I can make excuses as to why it’s been a long stretch between phone calls or letters to people who are important to me. Sometimes my lack of communication is because I have grown tired of being the only one for whom it seems like communication is of any importance in the relationship.
Sometimes it’s just been too long and I’m just embarrassed.
Remember, communication takes two. We have to learn and understand what others might need from us for our relationships to grow and develop.
When communication is lacking, hurts and misconceptions happen, people and relationships may feel unimportant, special experiences and opportunities are missed, time and distance seem to dominate or control the relationship; and, unfortunately the connection can become filled with static, uncomfortableness and even be cut off completely.
I recently challenged a group of eighth-graders during a faith formation class I was teaching to put away the cell phone and distractions of the world and take time to meet two new people in the next few weeks who aren’t part of their typical circle of friends.
I asked them to please “look these brothers and sisters in the face, eye to eye, ask their name, physically sit down with them and take the time to hear their story. Listen. Share. Communicate. Love.”
I know this is a great and uncomfortable challenge, but it is what God asks us to do each and every day throughout our lifetime — communicate. I can’t wait to follow up with these youth on the next party line!
Elizabeth Neville is director of the St. Cloud Mission Office, 11-8th Ave., South, St. Cloud.