Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. Genesis 26:30
A certain high school teacher introduced a course entitled, “Home Ec for Boys!” Nobody touched it. So she changed the course title to, “Bachelor Living for Men,” and the enrollment quickly filled up. Same stuff: cooking, sewing, and washing. It was what the words communicated.
Words are such poor vehicles of our thoughts. A certain woman who was traveling in Europe learned that the hard way, when she sent the following telegram to her husband, “Have found wonderful bracelet. Price Seventyfive thousand. May I buy it?” He immediately fired back a telegram which read, “No, price too high!” The telegraph operator, however, omitted that one comma after the word No, so the message read, “No price too high!” She bought it. That was an expensive breakdown in communication. But not as high as the substitution of a period for a comma. It happened on July 22, 1962 when the first American Venus probe was launched. A programmer inadvertently inserted a period into a FORTRAN program when he should have used a comma, and that very slight mistake caused the rocket to head towards a populated area, and the space rocket had to be destroyed as the result.
I suspect that the woman patched things up with her husband, and although the Venus probe cost a lot of money, no lives were lost as the result of that breakdown in communication. But when it comes to breakdowns in communication between people, there can be some devastating results. Relationships break down and marriages are destroyed.
There are a number of reasons that our best efforts to communicate fall flat. Most of our communication is done with the vehicle of words. We learn to speak as the natural result of assimilating our environment, and we assume that everybody else speaks the same language because they know the same words we use. That’s the first fatal assumption in communication. There are about 600,000 words in the English language today, and the average person uses fewer than 5,000. Actually, most of us use about 2,000 words in normal conversation. All right if we master these 2,000 words, then we can all understand each other and communicate? Right? Wrong! That’s the second fatal assumption in communication.
The problem is that the 500 most frequently used words in the English have no fewer than 14,000 dictionary definitions. It’s no wonder that words are poor vehicles of expression. Some languages are much better at conveying meaning than others. Greek, for example, is a beautiful language. That’s the one God chose to give us our New Testament. It offers a beauty and exactness that we just don’t have in English, but I’m afraid that if I’m to communicate with you today, I’ve got to use my native tongueEnglish.
The third basic assumption, which, indeed, is flawed, is thinking that because we use certain words they mean the same thing to the person who is the object of our conversation. I often think of the conversation which takes place in Lewis Carroll’s book, Alice in Wonderland. Humpty Dumpty is talking to Alice and says, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to meanneither more nor less.” But Alice replies, “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
Long ago Paul wrote, “…if you talk to a person in some language he doesn’t understand, how will he know what you mean? You might as well be talking to an empty room.”
Resource reading: James 1