Have you ever had a situation where something you said was misunderstood?
Most people communicate by the use of words. A newborn first communicates with facial expressions, crying, and other sounds, but soon utters words. Normally it is "mommy" or "dada" (although "no" is often spoken early on), but there are exceptions.
One day, my oldest grandchild, who had arrived weighing more than ten pounds, was in the car with us when we passed the Golden Arches. We were shocked to hear the word, "Cheeseburger". His parents would have preferred his first spoken word to be "mommy" or "dada", but we certainly understood him. He wanted to eat!
The other day, I passed the suite of an elderly fellow resident. She had fallen, broken her pelvis, been hospitalized, gone to rehabilitation, and then gone to her daughter's home. It was established that she was unable to return to her suite and live independently. Thus, her suite became available for occupancy by another.
As I passed the suite to go onto the elevator, a staff member exited the suite with a young man. Referring to the occupant, the staff member said to me, "She's gone." I responded by saying, "You mean, to her daughter's," (which I knew was the case) since too often, such a statement has a more final meaning, particularly in a residence where most of us are older.
The staff member then said, "This is Michael, he's looking." After a pause, and realizing that this young man could easily have been the grandson of most of the residents and therefore not a suitable occupant for the suite, she said, "He's looking for his mother." While the staff member meant that he was researching suitable accommodation for his mother, I replied, "Has he been able to find her?"
At that moment, the elevator door opened, and the three of us entered. The occupants knew the staff member and myself, but I introduced the young man by saying, "This is Michael. He's looking for his mother." Again, there was laughter as people envisioned him going from suite to suite searching.
While these incidents have probably caused you to laugh, it may be that you also remember incidents where words that you used were misunderstood and harm was done.
There was a chorus we used to sing:
- Oh, be careful, little tongue, what you say,
Oh, be careful, little tongue, what you say.
For the Father up above is looking down in love,
So be careful, little tongue, what you say.
Proverbs 21:23 – He who is careful of his lips and tongue will manage to keep clear of trouble. (James Moffatt Translation)
The communication model of Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, teaches us that body language and tone are much more important than the actual words used. But words do matter, and it is important that we be careful in our choice of words and try to make corrections if our words are misunderstood.
Prayer: Father, help us to be careful in our choice of words. Help us to follow the example of Jesus, and if we stray intentionally or otherwise, help us to make amends as quickly as possible. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.