Are you tuned into the people around you? Really? It seems that face-to-face communication can almost be eliminated today. With the use of email, Facebook, Twitter and texting, human interaction is becoming a lost art. There are just some things that are missed in communication when it is not done through the “human” interface. Emails, tweets, Facebook posts and texts cannot compare to the warmth of a smile, the ire of a frown or the “tone” of a voice. Facial expressions and body language sometimes can give more information than the words themselves. St. Francis of Assisi was quoted as saying “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” As the saying goes; actions speak louder than words.
A few years ago as my co-workers in ministry and I arrived at a host church to begin a day of planning and prayer. We were all geared to do the usual, predictable routine. Some opening remarks, some prayer and songs, then proceed with the agenda for the day. Things took a dramatic turn when it was announced that the day was going to be a silent day of reflection. Silent, meaning no words at all among 50 people, even during lunch. It was awkward to say the least. We were presented with no means of communication other than facial expressions, animated gestures and pointing. The great thing about the experience was that we all compensated by sharpening our other senses and we survived the day.
Little did I know at the time that our family would be faced with this permanent experience with our son Matthew. Matthew is non-verbal, meaning he uses no words for communication. His modes of communication are leading us by the hand and placing our hands on what he is after, different sounds and facial expressions. In the past few years he has excelled in his ability to use sign language. Although Matthew knows and understands more sign than he uses, this has been a huge breakthrough in the area of knowing and understanding Matthew. He not only has a “voice” in our family but also shows an attitude and an opinion.
We have been conditioned to cue into Matthew’s modes of communication and to always be tuned to what he might be saying. Some days we are better at it than others. One day one of our daughters, Megan, was lying on the sofa reading a book. Matthew has several videos that he enjoys and only recently has he learned how to hit the buttons for play, fast-forward, rewind etc. On this day Matthew approached Megan several times, expressing his need for help by standing patiently and tugging at her. Megan was preoccupied reading and was not “tuned in” to what Matthew was saying. After his failed attempts, Matthew tried a different approach. Matthew proceeded to sail the remote across the room and bounce it off Megan’s forehead. After a few minutes of ranting and looking to mom for a just punishment for Matthew, Theresa stated the obvious…that Matthew was telling Megan that he needed help over and over again but she was not listening to him. He finally had to “yell” by tossing the remote.
Are you listening to those around you? Or, perhaps sometimes you are like me …to busy dodging remote controls to hear.