1. General Christian

Messages we deliver without meaning to.

         I’ve been thinking, recently, about a number of situations in which people communicate much more, or at least a different message, than they perhaps intend to deliver.
     A man I often see at Presbytery usually does not acknowledge me.  When we pass each other, when we are in the same groups, when we are at the same table, he doesn’t talk to me or smile or nod his head in recognition, although I usually try to make eye contact, smile and say hello.  I assumed that was because he simply didn’t know who I was and, in a conversation with a mutual acquaintance I must have made the comment that we really didn’t know each other: that I knew who he was, but I didn’t think the reverse was true.  About a month after I had made that comment, this man actually approached me and said, “I DO know who you are!  See, I’m telling you that I do know and have known who you are for a long time!”  Okay… except that I had actually been giving him the benefit of the doubt by assuming that he didn’t acknowledge me because he didn’t know who I was.  Frankly, it hadn’t occurred to me that he was actually being intentionally rude or dismissive.  I just really didn’t know how to respond to his acknowledging that he knew me.  Perhaps I should have named what I heard from him directly, “So, what I am hearing is that you haven’t acknowledged me before, not because you don’t know who I am but because you didn’t feel it necessary to acknowledge me.  Perhaps it wasn’t worth your effort to respond to me.  Or…?  Help me to understand this.”  But I didn’t.  Which leaves me wondering what he was really trying to communicate with all of this.
        Another situation:  A good friend of mine invited some folk over for dinner.  Since she (like many of my friends) is a vegetarian and doesn’t cook with meat, she made what I felt was a hearty meal of a vegetable stew that was packed with beans, tofu, pasta and tons of vegetables and cheese, along with homemade bread, salad, hors d’oeuvres (including fruit, cheese, dips, vegies) and a home baked-fancy dessert.  A couple days later one of the people who attended the dinner said to her (within my hearing), “Well, I never before thought it was okay to just serve people soup, but now I know I can and I won’t work so hard on meals I make for others.”  I was shocked.  Um… how about “Thank you for the meal and the company”?  But what was interesting was that I don’t actually think she meant to be hurtful.
        A person I know has been very fond of sharing the fact that when her daughter was very little (2 and 3 years old) the little girl would beg anyone passing by to come play with her.  The mother has no realization at all that telling this story always makes the hearers wonder why SHE didn’t make the effort to play with her daughter herself.
        Another person I know has a husband who was trying to quit smoking after having some related health problems.  As we know, the first 30 days of trying to conquer any addiction can be trying.  This person bragged though that after 15 days of her husband acting grouchy, she went out and bought him a pack of cigarettes which she then insisted he smoke because, “Well, I didn’t like his grumpy attitude.”  So, half way through the hardest part, his grumpiness was more important to her than his health?
        One time I was standing with a group of people discussing plans for an event and the director of the project asked if someone on the committee could do a specific task.  One of the other members of the committee said, “Say ‘Please’!” much to the embarrassment of all of us.  I was struck with wonder that someone could be trying to correct another person’s social skills in such a completely socially unskilled way.
        On Facebook a while ago a friend of mine posted “happy birthday to three of my favorite people!” and she proceeded to name three close friends.  A person who is also a friend to all three of those people responded in the comments, “I’m tagging on here.  Happy birthday to…” and then named two of the three folk, even though the third was also his friend on Facebook and a close acquaintance, at least, in the real world.
        What do we communicate with our slights?  What are we really saying when we are rude to other people, or when we share times we’ve been unkind or inattentive or lacking compassion for others?  Why would we act this way?  Are we unaware that our own behaviors (as well as our words) reflect so much more on ourselves than on anyone else we might be trying to confront, make fun of, or judge?
          I know we all make mistakes.  And we all can do things or say things that affect other people in ways we don’t see, don’t expect or don’t understand.  I am grateful to those people who actually tell me when I’ve communicated or done something that hurts others or hasn’t been received well. But these other incidents end up also being gifts because they call me to pay more attention to what I’m communicating that I might not even be aware of.
         I think that during this stressful time we have choices to make about what we will contribute to the world in each day.  Do we give support and kindness, or do we act out with anger, harm or unkind actions?  Do we offer grace and compassion, or are we unforgiving and unkind?  We have a choice. Do you want your time on this earth to have contributed in a positive way to the lives of others, or did you want it to have negatively impacted the world?
         As I said, we all make mistakes.  And we are not always aware of what messages we actually send out, good or bad; the long term affects of our behaviors, for better or worse.  I hope you will tell me when I have done harm so that I can work on doing better.  For this day, I am working to hear more deeply what others are communicating and what I may be intentionally communicating as well.

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