Several years ago, I posted a “Merry Christmas” message on our website for Christmas. I was gently and graciously taken to task by a member who noted not all members celebrated Christmas—he himself was Jewish. I truly appreciated his thoughts and am happy to report that we enjoyed a rather pleasant email dialog for a while, discussing some of the membership challenges Granges face and how “open” our organization truly is to different persuasions and perspectives.
The following year I remembered that discussion and posted a more generic “Seasons Greetings” message on the website. I was less gently taken to task for not acknowledging the Christmas Season. I was tempted to conclude that I can’t win—except for the fact I did have the pleasant experience the year prior. As I recall, after agonizing and soliciting ideas, I didn’t post anything next year. (The “Charlie Brown” problem-solving bias is, “There is no problem so big it can’t be run away from!”) That didn’t seem quite right either, but either no one noticed, or no one was upset by it. Phew!
Communication is an art and science. Effective communication also isn’t easy. We should choose our words carefully. But we are still a bit at the mercy of the listener’s perspective. Two young friends of ours demonstrated that while on a road trip. They decided to sing songs to us and took turns choosing what to sing.
At one point, the younger objected to her sister’s song choice. “We can’t sing that song—it has inappropriate words in it.” A thoughtful silence followed until the older girl replied, “It’s okay to sing that song because we don’t know what the inappropriate words mean.” The younger didn’t buy the rationalization, in part because she suspected we adults in the front seat (who were stifling laughter) would know what they meant and find them objectionable. When you think about it, there were some genuine insights into the art and science of communication discovered that day.
The older girl was focused on intent—her intent was to entertain us, not to upset us. The younger at some level understood Marshall McLuhan’s observation that the medium influences how the message is received. While we most often think of the “medium” as the delivery vehicle (television, social media, etc.) the medium certainly includes the language and words used.
A non-Granger once provided me with an interesting example. She said that her sense was Grange Meetings were for members, but Grange Programs were for anyone. I hadn’t thought about it before, but that actually makes some sense. The medium is the message!
On another occasion, we had a bunch of third graders at the Grange Hall for Dictionary Day. I’m careful with vocabulary but somehow accidentally used the term “deputy” when answering a question about how the Grange works. The very sincere follow-up question to my answer was “Do the deputies have badges and do they have to carry a gun?”
We certainly would do well to consider what is appropriate and what is inappropriate, remembering that the answers are not always black and white. In some communication circles it’s said, “Words do not have meaning, people give meaning to the words.”
There are people who would be happy to come to a Grange program, but they would not feel welcome at a meeting. The dictionary tells us that a “deputy” is someone “appointed as a substitute with the power to act.” (Merriam Webster) But a lot of people think of a deputy sheriff—an enforcer—instead of a deputy director. Conversely, while I’m happy to be a substitute teacher, I am not a deputy teacher.
We just need to think when we communicate, remembering that communication is giving and getting. Sometimes that means going beneath the words to get to the meaning. As a speaker, I’ll try to describe what’s going on at the Grange Hall as a program. But if I forget and call it a meeting, please know that I don’t mean you aren’t invited. Let’s not listen to reply; let’s listen to understand. Let’s not speak to be heard; let’s speak to be understood.
“You can talk with someone for years, every day, and still, it won’t mean as much as what you can have when you sit in front of someone, not saying a word, yet you feel that person with your heart, you feel like you have known the person for forever…. connections are made with the heart, not the tongue.”
― C. JoyBell C.
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