Communicating accurately and well is an act of love. We have to love both the object that is being communicated as well as the recipient of that object. Communicating means giving and not taking. We need to care about the person to whom we are writing or speaking—in every instance. We all have read certain writers who appear to write in order to see themselves on the page. They write as if they are constantly looking in a mirror. They are the obsessive selfie-takers. They are the ones who walk down the sidewalk with their headphones in so that they can have their own personal soundtrack, only lifting their heads to catch glimpses of themselves sliding along store-front windows. They write themselves onto the paper not in order to actually share something worth knowing, but in order to admire their own manufactured persona. It is all about them.
True communication is all about the recipient. And yet this doesn’t mean that you have to leave yourself behind. Wherever you are, there you are. You can’t escape yourself and you aren’t meant to. We can’t step outside of our own skin in order to write. We can’t climb onto some impersonal, all-knowing balcony in the sky in order to avoid self-absorption. No. In order to communicate, you have to be a “you.” You have to be a communicator which means that you are an agent. The message cannot be entirely separated from the medium or from the messenger. This means that you are going to communicate in a way that is necessarily personal. The question is: how is it going to be personal? Is it going to be personal in a way that serves both the message and the recipient? Or are you going to slip back into the hall of egotistical me-mirrors, distorting both the message and yourself in the process?
Communicating, writing, speaking—it is all gift-giving. The gift is the message itself and yet the gift is also you. You are giving something of yourself whenever you speak. Think about that for a second. You are giving of yourself. But it is not a you-focused gift. Unlike the examples given above, giving of yourself is not the same as plastering all of your writing with posters of your face. Giving of yourself must stem from a recognition that all has been given to you in the first place. Everything you have you have because you received it and therefore what you are did not come from you in the first place. Giving of yourself is actually a re-gifting. Understanding this is essential to any genuine charity. Communication is sacrifice. Of your time, your energy, your thoughts, your passions, your soul—when you make an effort to accurately form the thoughts in your head into words (in any form) and then pass them onto another person where those words can then enter their heads and perhaps their souls, you are imitating the Creator of all. You are re-gifting His glorious gifts. You are giving something that is priceless and yet, here’s the strange thing, costs little. In fact, the more you give this gift, you will find you have more to give. The more time and energy and care that you put into crafting this gift of communication, the more you will find you have to spend.
This is why it is so important to know who it is that you are communicating to. We’ve established that communication is a personal gift. But it is not only personal in the sense that you are a person and therefore it will have your personality in it. It is also personal in the sense that you are giving it to a person or persons. And because communication is for the recipient, it needs to be crafted especially for them and no other. There’s a reason that you put gift labels on your Christmas presents. You couldn’t just swap little Susie’s gift with Uncle Frank’s. And if you could, the gifts would lack a personal touch. You could easily give them both Amazon.com gift cards. But those kinds of gifts, while there is a place for them where they will be surely appreciated, lack an understanding of the individual for whom the gift is meant. But if Susie opens Uncle Frank’s argyle tie and Uncle Frank is befuddled by the Barbie Dream House, you have actually done something right. You just need to sort out your labels. The gifts were personal, the way they should be. But you misidentified your audience.
This is why one of the first questions we ask ourselves when we are going to communicate (in person or in writing) is: who is our audience? Who is the recipient of our gift? Who are they? What are they like? What are they expecting and what do they need? We need to have these question in the back of our minds whenever we communicate – whether we’re talking to parents or siblings, classmates or students, an audience of hundreds or an audience of one bright-eyed three-year-old. In every instance, we are giving a gift. And the same questions that we ask when we are figuring out our Christmas shopping are the ones we must ask when we sit down to write a good paper or when we are preparing to speak to an audience or when we are simply relaying information to a family member. Who is this for? Only then can we pour ourselves out in the right way for our audience. Only then can we communicate clearly and well in every area.
Only then will our communication touch souls, shape ideas, and change minds.
If there is anything in us, it is not our own; it is a gift of God. But if it is a gift of God, then it is entirely a debt one owes to love, that is, to the law of Christ. And if it is a debt owed to love, then I must serve others with it, not myself.Thus my learning is not my own; it belongs to the unlearned and is the debt I owe them…My wisdom belongs to the foolish, my power to the oppressed. Thus my wealth belongs to the poor, my righteousness to the sinners…It is with all these qualities that we must stand before God and intervene on behalf of those who do not have them, as though clothed with someone else’s garment…But even before men we must, with the same love, render them service against their detractors and those who are violent toward them; for this is what Christ did for us.
—(Martin Luther, “Lectures on Galatians”).
More articles by Christiana Hale.