Every once in awhile I notice an accident of the English language that makes so much sense that it seem purposeful. Today I was looking at the word “listen.” Perhaps I have watched too many episodes of “Wheel of Fortune” or played too many games of “Words with Friends,” but I noticed something profound. If one rearranges the letters in “listen” one can spell the word “silent.” The same letters rearranged, that reveal something very important about our relationship with others.
Communication between two people has always been a challenge. It does not matter if one is living in a different culture or historical period. Communication is difficult. With the advent of numerous electronic devises and the tendency people have to be connected 24 hours a day, seven days a week, one might believe it is easier to communicate than it has ever been. I do not think this is the case.
Have you ever received an email and interpreted the tone wrongly? Emoticons were created to help the receiver have a greater sense of the nuances of email. Texting is not any easier. Beyond texting basic information like “I’m running late,” if we think it has enhanced communication, we are not paying attention.
Is not that the issue? Paying attention is a challenge. Even communicating face to face does not guarantee that we are paying attention. Perhaps you have sat in amazement, like I have, to watch two people at a restaurant texting other people instead of paying attention to the person in front of them. We may be connected to the world in ways we have never been before, but we are not communicating any better. Indeed we may be worse at it than ever before.
No one could argue that listening is essential for true communication to take place. Being distracted is an epidemic in our culture. I have been having a conversation with someone that interrupts me to read a text, to see who posted something on Facebook, or taken a phone call. The not too subtle message is that our conversation, if important at all, takes second place (at best) in that person’s priorities.
I have been guilty of all of the above. But thankfully I have recognized that and am working on disconnecting from the world so that I can be present to the one who is right in front of me. Not only am I working on being present but also listening to the one I am with, not the promise of a text, email or Facebook post. To truly listen, I must be silent. If I am silent, I honor the person with whom I am attempting to have a conversation. This not only makes communication possible, it sends a strong message that the time I am spending with this person is something I value.
Unfortunately too many people do not take time to reflect on the importance of communication. Have you noticed how easy it is to be distracted? What can you do the next time you have a conversation with someone? I would suggest that you unplug from your devices and plug in to the one sitting right across from you. You just might find that communication is still possible.