Proceed With Caution

cautionI am constantly amazed at the incredible power of words and actions. Every time that I think I have an understanding of how words work or what could possibly be conveyed by what I say or do, I am humbled by the fact that I thought I knew more than I really did. I realize that I still have so much more to learn.

With the exponential rise of social media, we’ve had to learn how to communicate in a whole new way. I wonder if the people who were alive when the telephone was first invented had a similar experience. They had been used to communicating with people face to face and all of a sudden, they were simply talking to someone who was no longer standing there in front of them. Their communication no longer had the benefit of body language. With social media, we are not only missing the benefit of body language, we also may be missing the context of relationship. We communicate with people whom we haven’t seen in a long time or we may not have ever met.

When it comes to reading the written word, it’s always important to determine authorial intent. What was the author thinking when they wrote what they wrote? Who were they writing to? What was the context into which this written word was coming? How does my own context differ? These questions and thousands of others are essential to ask when reading something written by someone else, but in our “I only have a few seconds” society and culture, I fear that we don’t really stop and think through all of this.

Instead, we take our own presuppositions to the table of interpretation and we apply what we know and think to what we read. I’ve done it so many times myself that I can hardly keep count. I remember being in a long distance dating relationship before I got married and reading between the lines of every email that I received. All of my insecurities and all of my fears seemed to rise up as I read the words written on the screen in front of me and it caused so much hurt within me. I can’t even begin to think how many times I had misinterpreted things because of where I was coming from.

I write a lot and I usually do my own editing. I do my best to think through what I write, trying hard to put myself in the interpreter’s chair. I rarely publish a first effort of something without taking a long hard look at it. As much as I make these efforts, I know that I will still be misunderstood and misinterpreted. It’s happened more times than I care to admit and even with all of my intentional and conscious efforts, I know that I can still be misinterpreted.

It’s a difficult place in which to find yourself, wanting to communicate something and knowing the potential for miscommunication. It’s a place where humility is key. It’s important to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and context and to try to and see things the way that they do. Some of the greatest lessons that I have learned have come because something I said, wrote, or did was misinterpreted. Once upon a time, I would have just laughed off so many of these misunderstandings, but I’ve grown to see the value in them because of how much they have caused me to grow.

Every misunderstanding that I have followed up with has resulted in a heightened consciousness within me, a deeper understanding of the power of words and the potential for misinterpretation of those words. Sure, I will still be misunderstood and misinterpreted, but if I can do my best to learn why, the potential growth for the long term can be invaluable.

I am grateful for people who are willing to raise issues with me. I am grateful for people who have the courage to question when they don’t understand. I am grateful that there are people whose own questioning has led to my own growth. I hope and pray that the same grace and patience that many of them have shown to me is the same grace and patience that I exhibit to others as well.


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