By Brenda Black
I know what I think you know you said, but what you said is not what you think you know you said. The basis for every argument. The reason behind office conflict, sibling rivalry and continental warfare - misunderstanding. Though words pack a powerful punch in person, they often leave readers assuming when lifted from a page because there is more to language than just words. Communication is actually only 7% words. Non-verbal messages constitute 55% and tone makes up the remaining 38%.
Face to face and within earshot, most folks get the point whether it is spelled out or not. They see the warmth in your eyes or sense the agitation in your quivering lips. They hear the escalating volume and notice clench fists stiffly poised at your side. Leaning forward, folded arms, darting glances each send a message of attentiveness or disregard.
So how does someone make absolutely sure they are interpreted correctly when we instant message, email, facebook and twitter all day long. In cyberspace there is no face to face or human touch to measure the meaning behind each phrase. Are we getting the right point across when the best we have to offer is a colon, dash and bracket to convey smiles or frowns.
The fear beyond faceless conversation these days is that those who communicate mostly in cyberspace can leave a permanent paper trail. Numbed by the constancy of instant accessibility, computer communicators may forget that what they type or twitter could end up documented for infinity. My advice: choose words wisely.
With moment-by-moment posts and the quick click of “share,” comes the responsibility to be just as quick thinking and careful about vain speech. The Scriptures caution the use of vile words. They also warn against wasted words.
“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven...A time to be silent, and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,7b NASB)
It is not necessary to tell the world everything. The pressure to expound every little detail in your life may eventually come back to haunt you. Consider a law student who lost a job because of photos of her wilder days shared on a community billboard. Think about the number of politicians ground through the media sieve of dirt-digging. I'm not suggesting double standards nor hypocritical personas. I am in the favor of tasteful honesty and even more importantly, ministry.
Rather than blow up or blow off steam through computer communities, I prefer to hold out hope, write out prayer, offer a blessing or comfort with sincerity. Can readers comprehend the emotion behind those gestures. I think they can. There is a marked difference between pat answers and heart-felt prayers. Encouragement is easily recognized by positive terms.
Communication may consist of words, body language and tone, but nothing speaks louder than genuine love and concern in person or on a page. And God abides in that kind of conversation. “He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend.” (Proverbs 22:11)
To the younger generation that is caught up in the computer communication craze, I offer the same council that Paul gave to Timothy: “Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young,” he begins. But rather than have his charge believe he deserves respect, Paul teaches him how to obtain it through careful example. “But set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)