I picked up a hitchhiker the other day, he was standing on the side of the road and as I was driving towards him I realized that we were both heading in the same direction. So I pulled over and signaled for him to get in. He jumped in the car, a man in his fifties, and we introduced ourselves to one another.
We then began a two-hour eye-opening conversation, in which we shared our stories, laughed with one another, and learned about one another’s hopes, dreams, and regrets. The conversation was real, and when we arrived at our destination, before parting, he pulled out a beautifully bound poetry book and said that he wanted me to have it – as someone who loves writing poetry, it meant the absolute world to me.
It was this encounter with a complete stranger that really got me thinking about how and why we communicate with one another, and how much the form of that communication has changed in recent times. Below is a video which has been created to get us thinking about the way in which we are presenting our lives to others – essentially, the way in which we are communicating with others. It is a challenge to us, and it asks us whether this form of communication is a healthy form for our personal mental well-being, and for the well-being of others.
There is a very subtle, and yet immensely powerful, element to this video which you may or may not have noticed, and that is that not a single word is spoken. We see many words written, but we do not hear a single word said. Why is this striking? Because when we think of communicating with someone else, we naturally think of speaking with them face to face – and yet this was completely, and I presume intentionally, absent from the video.
And I think that this alludes to a distressing irony that has emerged in Western society today, which is that, communication has never been so easy, and yet, we’re not communicating. Means of communication are all around us, and yet we’re not telling people how we really are. We may send an emoji or a meme, we may like a profile picture or an article, but we’re not sharing our stories with one another, and we’re forgetting how to talk – to really talk – with another person face to face. Social media is rapidly becoming the place where communication is going to die.
But it’s not hopeless and it’s not helpless, Pope Francis said in a message for the World Day of Social Communications that, “it is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.” The great thing is that we can re-discover the essence of communication as rooted in the human heart’s desire to be with others, and to share in reality with others. This is why communication is so important, because, by it, we open up our world to someone else, and someone else opens up their world to us. We learn by communicating; we have things put before us that we may have never noticed or encountered before. We come to believe only by communication – for something must be communicated if we are to believe it – Christ was the Word of God. We come to love by communication, we can’t conceive of any sort of relationship in which there is no communicating.
The means that we have for communication are good, but they must be used to communicate!
In the video, we saw people framing their lives in snapshots, but these snapshots did not represent reality, and that which does not represent or reflect reality is not true – it’s a lie. The 20th century philosopher, Josef Pieper, often wrestled with the question as to whether a lie could be taken as communication; he finally concluded that it couldn’t because “a lie is the opposite of communication. It means specifically to withhold the other’s share and portion of reality.”
So, let’s make this practical. Here’s three tips for rediscovering authentic communication.
1. Face to Face
Now, I’m not going to tell you to go out and find a hitchhiker and drive him across the country, or go up to some random person in the street and start pouring out your heart to her. But start speaking with those closest to you about your life, and start finding out about theirs. It’s not a chore; it’s a great joy to be able to talk with others. So ditch the laptop, ditch the phone, and go out and be with people.
I think that it’s a good idea that we consider just how much time we are spending on social media, compared with how much time we would spend out with a friend speaking face to face. If we find that we’re spending three hours a day on social media, and yet only that amount of time total with a friend over a whole week, then we may want to start thinking about how we could change that ratio.
2. No lies
We shouldn’t try and manipulate how our lives look for our own gain in the sight of others. It goes without saying that what we reveal to someone else, and what we allow them to enter into in our lives, will differ to varying degrees dependent upon the relationship that we have to the other person. We’ll reveal much more to a friend or to a spouse then we will to a hitchhiker, and that’s ok, that’s important, because it recognizes and respects the value of different relationships and that which it is suitable for each person to know respectively.
But when we do communicate with others – face to face, or via social media – let us not present them with a false image of who we are. The affirmation that comes from someone “liking” a lie only serves to reveal to ourselves how far we really are from others. If we present ourselves to others in a way that seeks confirmation from them, by means of a lie, then paradoxically it only serves to isolate ourselves even further.
3. Communicate with God
Above all, talk to God. God the Father sent His Only Son into the world so that we could communicate with Him face to face. Two thousand years ago, people spoke with God face to face. Today we are told that Christ is the Eternal Word, and so the communication that they had with Him face to face back then, we are still able to have here and now, that communication is still alive and it’s still active.
God wants us to communicate with Him, and He showed that most evidently in sending us His Son. He has reached down to us in love so that we may better know how to reach up to Him, how to present ourselves before Him, how to talk with Him, and how to love Him.
If we can do these three things faithfully, then we’ll soon start to rediscover the real path to authentic communication. All trivial and needless words will fall by the wayside and we’ll come together, heart unto heart, and encounter one another once again in a real and meaningful way that is able to enrich all our lives.