I was about ten when I really started to use the phone to talk to friends. I got a call one day from a friend, who quickly turned the conversation to what I thought about another friend. I didn’t say much at first, but he kept prodding me about that friend’s flaws, until I joined in and said something negative about the friend.
What I didn’t realize is that my friend had discovered how to do something I didn’t yet know how to do: three-way calling. The third person on the line was the friend about whom I had just said something negative. That situation was embarrassing, and it harmed not one but two of my friendships.
It was also a teaching moment. I learned this lesson:
Be careful what you say and how you say it.
We have forgotten how to talk to one another. That’s a generalization, but it’s true enough today that those who remember how to talk to one another are the exception rather than the norm.
The world of communication is changing at a rapid pace:
- Newspapers are struggling; #fakenews is alive and well.
- We are connected 24/7; we have wired ourselves to be unable to shut off from this flow of information.
- We have a world full of information at our fingertips; we often lack the discernment to filter it or the attention span to read long enough to be informed.
- We are able to communicate what we’re up to on a daily basis; we have – in the process – created a culture of discontentment where we think everyone’s highlight reels are their realities, and that our lives are bland in comparison.
All this affects how we relate to one another. The same tools that God can use to reach the world are also tools that Satan uses to divide it. And on this particular battleground, sometimes it looks like Satan is winning. But…
We know God wins the war.
And we know that God wants us to be part of the solution and not the problem.
I have learned many lessons the hard way, and I have witnessed many conflicts and wounds that could have been avoided with a little bit of knowledge and intentionality. So, today I am presenting to you for reflection a personal working theory I have been applying to my own life over the course of my ten years of ministry. I call it, “Levels of Communication.”
Levels of Communication:
- Social Media
This is by far the lowest level of communication. It usually involves the least amount of relational effort, and feeds many unhealthy tendencies. Lives, marriages, friendships, churches and careers are daily destroyed on social media. It has a use and value, but TREAD LIGHTLY! Once something is “posted,” assume it can’t be taken back.
Email used to be the lowest level of communication before social media was invented. It is useful to transfer information. Assume whatever you write can and perhaps will be read by someone you did not intend. No, adding a disclaimer to the bottom of your email does not help; nobody reads those. I have no proof, but the following features were likely invented by Satan: reply all, forward, and “bcc.” I have seen these features cause huge amounts of collateral damage. People also tend to say things in email they would often not say to someone’s face.
- Text Messages
Texts are useful for conveying information in a brief manner. Despite the invention of emojis, texts are not useful for conveying genuine emotion. I have seen incredible damage caused by people reading “tones” and “between the lines” messages from texts. People will also text things that they are not comfortable speaking to another person.
- Voice Conversations (Phone Calls)
Phone calls are a good relational tool; they are a way for two people to connect who are unable to connect in person. They take more effort and usually take longer than text messaging, but they convey more genuine information based on tone, inflection, and so on. With the advent of Skype and FaceTIme, these calls have reached an even higher level.
- Personal Letters
Personal letters and notes are a fantastic way to bolster human relationships. Because they are an antiquated form of communication, there is an effort and intentionality required – even an art – that resonate on a deep relational level. I know couples who save love letters for decades. I have a drawer full of personal notes of appreciation in my desk drawer, that I keep to re-read when I question whether anything I do means anything to anyone else. My grandmother in the nursing home keeps a stack of letters by her chair to read and re-read. Most of the books of the New Testament are letters. Whatever we write in letters, however, we should write with the knowledge that a physical copy of this letter may be kept for years.
Whenever possible, this is the only mode of communication that should be used in conflict, when someone needs to be rebuked, or any other situation where you are trying to keep a disagreement from escalating into division. Face-to-face conversation removes all the other artificial barriers that our modern technological tools have put in place. When I talk to someone face-to-face, I can actively listen, as well. I can see when my words cause hurt. We were designed for this kind of communication more than any other. (Note: This is also absolutely true when it comes to conflict resolution! In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus insists on it as the path to genuine reconciliation.)
Am I wrong? These are they ways I personally value communication; you may prioritize them differently. I would love to hear why.
But I think the big question to ask is this: Would I say this to someone in a face-to-face conversation? If the answer is no, then I probably also shouldn’t say it on social media, in an email, through a text message, phone call or even a personal letter.
For the record, I am posting this because I am passionate enough about this issue that I feel comfortable expressing these thoughts in every possible way. If one person learns from my own personal lessons and mistakes, this post was worth my time.