Care and Miscommunication

It’s a sad story that doesn’t get much press, but most of us have lived it. Genuine care that fails to carry love to its destination,  because the means intended to transport the message failed, crashed, or simply missed the loading dock.


I am thinking these days about the public conversation in the U.S. around climate change and extreme weather, devastating weather, events like Harvey and Irma.

A White House spokesperson implied that it was insensitive, uncaring, to raise questions about climate change while houses were under water. Now, almost any question or statement can be said in a hateful way, so the point is not to evaluate any particular instance. But assuming some care is still intended, how can we communicate better?

There is, of course, timing: if my child breaks his arm climbing a wall I told him not to climb, the moment of acute distress is probably not the time to mention my previous warning.


There is added credibility from embodied experience, relationship:  If I live in a community where razor blades are continually being dumped in the city park, my pleas to address the razor-dumping problem are going to be infused with obvious love and concern for my own children, the neighbor children who I’ve seen wounded. No one is going to say it’s ‘uncaring’ or ‘insensitive’ for me to ask with passion if we’re finally going to seriously address the razor-dumping problem, since 10 out of 15 children were seriously wounded at a birthday party last week. No is going to say “how can you ask that now?”

The question about climate change is born of care, most of the time. There may be some with an ugly smug feeling behind it, but for those of us who do care, who do worry not only about our own children but so many other children and vulnerable people whose lives will be most affected by the consequences of climate change, how can we speak in ways that might carry our love?

We could start with the greatest commandment. For those not in the affected region (this time) how would we want people to talk to us if our house was flooded? We can consider timing, and making sure that our words are rooted in real concerns for real people.

And then, we can pray. Really. Because as humans we are both magnificent and lousy communicators. We fail often to convey the true intent behind our words and actions -- and I’m just thinking today about altruistic communication, not even touching intended deception.

This is not just about climate change, obviously. Rather than being a sad story, maybe it's like a sad chapter that seems to pop up in almost every area of our lives: family, work, church, friendships. But it doesn't need to be the defining chapter.

We can ask, with humility, for the Holy Spirit to help us understand how we might love more clearly. We can listen as well as we are able to the human beings who inform us our words or actions have missed their intended mark. We can adjust, and try again, knowing even as we do so that our words and even sometimes our very lives are like arrows shot from the quiver: we cannot control fully where they land. And so we pray that some of the love we intended might be carried, might hit the mark, or at least the board, the next time around.