zack reynolds

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Can We Communicate?

I recently read Mortimer Adler's excellent book, How to Speak, How to Listen. It's an interesting look at communication and our lack of not only communication, but knowledge of how to communicate.

In times past, learning to communicate was an important part of any learned person's education.

Writing, reading, speaking, and listening are all methods of communication. As should be rather obvious, writing and speaking are outgoing forms of communication, while reading and listening are incoming forms of communication.

In this day and age, of the four methods of communication, writing and reading are the most emphasized of the four methods of communication, and of writing and reading, writing receives the most instruction.

But tell me...who's impressed with the writing skills of the average person?

Not only do we see several methods of communication overlooked in the teaching process, even those that are taught are not taught well.

If we look at this as a whole, we can see that all we do is we teach people to read so that they can read the comics. And we just teach people to write so they can write love letters.

But we don't teach people to communicate! And even more important, we don't teach people how to communicate in one-on-one or in group situations, for although reading and writing are all very well, they different from speaking and listening in one vital way.

Reading and writing are “loner” activities. In other words, they’re typically done apart from human contact. You retreat to your study to write a letter. You retreat to the library to read a book.

Speaking and listening, on the other hand, are typically done in person. Granted, sometimes people record speeches or talks on cd or video, and sometimes people listen to these cds and videos, and both remain separate from human contact, but typically, when you have somebody talking, there's someone else in the room listening (hopefully!), and when somebody's listening, there's someone else in the room talking.

But how developed are our skills of listening and speaking? How many times have you ever been talking to somebody, only to realize that they weren't actually listening to you? How many times (admit it) have you been "listening" to somebody talking, but instead of actually listening, were actually thinking about something entirely different, or (God forbid), not thinking about anything at all?

And how many times have you struggled to communicate your deepest thoughts or feelings to a friend, but just couldn't put it in words? Or how many times have you put it into words, only to find out later that your friend misunderstood you?

Problems of miscommunication and lack of communication are rampant, and the future isn’t looking any better.

These days, we no longer teach people to communicate. Instead, we leave them on their own, to struggle along as best they might. And from what I've seen, the struggling is more akin to the desperate struggles of a drowning man than the mature response of someone who’s going through something difficult.

Do you wonder why relationships in this day and age suffer? Communication is the key to relationships, and if we don't know how to communicate, obviously our relationships will suffer the consequences.

These days, people are left ignorant and helpless, and then we wonder why things always go wrong and nothing ever works out.

The solution, methinks, although simple in concept, isn't the easiest to live out.

You have to practice communicating in order to learn to communicate well.

Let me say that again.

You have to practice communicating in order to learn to communicate well.

I'm tempted to say that again...

How do you practice? Well, what is communication? Two people (or more) ...uh... communicating! What I suggest is practicing with someone who knows you, and is willing to help you through the process. This is not only for speaking/listening, but for writing/reading, too. Maybe it will be more than one person. One person you communicate with through letters, and the other in person.

Perhaps it could be a partnership. You-help-me-communicate-and-I'll-help-you. Or maybe the solution is to have a group or a club whose purpose is to improve the communicating abilities of its members.

Whatever the solution, let me remind you that communication is indeed important. And it's so important that I'm attempting to communicate to you the importance of communication.

So if you didn't understand what I just said, the problem is one of two things...either I didn't write lucidly enough, or somebody needs to work on their reading skills...


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