Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Communication - Diane Mettam

Yes, once again internet woes have kept me incommunicado.  But we think (and pray) the problem is finally solved.  As I tried to tell the new internet service provider, it was a bad modem.  They finally agreed and replaced it.  But it got me thinking about communication, and how difficult it can be.

I have a friend who was born with a severe form of cerebral palsy.  He has needed help with feeding, bathing and dressing all his life.  He needs a wheelchair to get around, and someone to push it for him.  He needs help getting into and out of bed.  And, like Moses, he is slow of speech.  But despite these ways his body has betrayed him, he is incredibly intelligent and very well educated.

Despite these challenges that might defeat a lesser person, Dan has managed to serve on a disability board for the State of California, traveling around the state on a merciless schedule advocating for the rights of the physically and developmentally challenged.  He also arranged a bowling league for the physically and developmentally challenged in the town where I used to live, which I enjoyed tremendously. 

I never knew I could bowl in a wheelchair until I met Dan.  Enter the ramp - a metal device on which you (or a helper) place your ball.  You (or your helper) aim the ramp in the direction you wish the ball to go, release the ball, and with any luck you knock down the pins!  In no time I was nearly as good a bowler as I had been as a young woman (but not nearly as good as Dan).   

Because of his speech impediment, people treat Dan as less than able.  They become impatient waiting for him to complete a sentence and try to finish it for him, or they look to his attendant to conduct the entire conversation.  And I think how much they miss, and how much they hurt Dan.

At the beginning I was just as guilty.  At times I thought I was helping.  I had a friend who stuttered, and it took her telling me that I was not helping by finishing her sentences.  Those who stutter need time to complete their sentence.  Cutting them off to complete it for them cuts off their mental process.  Dan was in the same situation.  Once I learned that, communication was much easier.

Sometimes we think we’re all communicating on the same level, but we’re not.  There might be language barriers, or physical barriers, or emotional or mental barriers.  We need to take those into account, and listen more carefully before we say another word.  We need to give the other person an opportunity to finish what they are saying before we respond.  We need to digest what they’re really saying, and not what we think they’re saying. 

A friend always used to say that’s why God gave us two ears but only one mouth.  In addition we have  a heart and mind with which to listen, and to gauge our actions and words. 

This week let us all concentrate on being active listeners, enthusiastic listeners.  What we can learn from each other, and about each other, can be revelatory.

“. . . but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.”  Psalm 66:19
Dear God, We thank you that you give us a fresh opportunity ever day to reach out to each other in love and understanding.  Help us to listen with our hearts and minds as well as our ears.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

photo: bowling at Indiana Special Olympics, 2012, Tim Vermande