Communication, Race, and Culture (Part 1: The Scalpel)

Communication, Race, and Culture (Part 1: The Scalpel)

I'm going to take a risk this week, publishing  four posts on the intersection of communication, race, and culture. I ask you to think, reflect, and not jump to conclusions! We need to help our culture return to the family table, to engage in calm conversation over hurts and fears. I'm sure I won't say it perfectly ... and that's part of the point. Without further ado ...

A Scalpel

Recent news regarding racial conflict hasn't escaped anyone's notice. Even my hometown (Wauwatosa, WI) has been thrust into the news by the death of a young black man, blamed on a police officer. Protests and destruction of innocent businesses have followed.

Until now, I've resisted making comments on our current cultural moment, because words are like a scalpel. In the hands of a surgeon, a scalpel is a precision-tool that brings healing, despite initial pain. But in the hands of a four-year-old ... a scalpel only make matters much worse.

I'm afraid that, despite my best efforts at wordsmithing, I may be more four-year-old than skilled surgeon. I'm not Dr. Dan. So I've been silent (until now), and will return to that posture soon. That's my plan. I'll try not to be partisan, but analytical and pensive. Here is the communication challenge before us.

The Communication Challenge

All of us labor under the delusion that if we say something, we've successfully communicated. This is not true. Real communication is a two-way street. Without a communicator's clarity and a listener's comprehension, every communication attempt is thwarted. For example, if I speak pristine Peruvian to the indigenous people of Ísafjörður, Iceland, I have not communicated. Though I've made sounds with my larynx, my Ísafjörður audience is clueless to the meaning of my utterance. They don't understand what I'm saying ... hence the old adage, "it's Greek to me" (or in this case, Peruvian).

A Surgeon and A Patient

Whether we're talking about Race, Religion, or Ravioli, there are two critical elements to successful communication. First, the Speaker (Surgeon) must wield the scalpel of words with great precision and character. Second, the Listener (Patient) must comprehend the words, filtering them generously through their biased grid, simultaneously seeking to understand the intention and heart of the Speaker. No wonder so many communication efforts end with a TOD (time of death).

If either the Speaker or the Listener fails in their mission, the result is disagreement, dismissal, or discord. Genuine communication must be dialogue, not monologue. I am afraid in our cultural moment, nearly all efforts at mature communication are failing on both sides – speaker and listener – and it's creating more heat than light.

Quick or Slow?

The Bible says, "Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger." (James 1:19).

Maybe that's why God gave us two ears and one mouth?

How about you and me? Do we have spiritual dyslexia when we read this verse, transposing the verbs? Do our minds mistakenly read it: "Be slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to anger?" Let's be careful about what we're slow and quick to do.

Have we been quick or slow to listen to others with competing viewpoints?  When we speak, are we careful? Has anger gripped your heart regarding race? Politics? Covid? God is watching how we wield the scalpel of words. He's also watching what kind of Listener we are. May our efforts shine in such a way that others commend our clarity and character ... and give praise to God.

Next time, I'll draw the scalpel carefully on our RCC Patient (Racially-Charged-Culture), striving for a clean incision. I hope you read it with a heart that believes the best of me. No surgeon is perfect, except The Great Physician, Jesus.

Next Post: Communication, Race, and Culture (Part 2: The Incision)