Archives for posts with tag: conversation

What do you say when you have nothing to say? Perhaps it is best just to be quiet. Don’t say anything.

What do you write when you have nothing to write? Nothing!

Silence and the blank page are intimidating but perhaps they are trying to free us from feeling the responsibility of always having helpful information or conversation.

Maybe we need to listen and learn rather than talk or write. So today I leave you with nothing or everything to ponder. Enjoy!

Jamie Jenkins

 

A word is a unit of language, a sound or a combination of sounds, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning. At least that is the definition. However, there are many words that I hear which do not fulfill that purpose. Meaningless words.

I know that the meaning of words can change over time. And words can have multiple meanings depending on context and a variety of other factors. But a word ought to mean something.

Homer, the legendary author of The Iliad and the Odyssey said, “Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.” I agree. Yet in everyday conversation and in the media I often wonder exactly what is the point of the word or phrase that is used.

In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott said, “I like good strong words that mean something…” Me too, but daily I am bombarded with meaningless words.

For example, there is a commercial for an adult beverage that claims to be “colder, crisper, and cleaner.” A drink? A financial institution claims it is “the bank of here.” Not the bank of “there.” OK. A fast food chain urges you to “Eat like you mean it.” Huh? A popular hotel chain’s tag line is “Travel should take you places.” Duh! Meaningless words.

Also there are the words and expressions that we toss around without any intended purpose. “Bless your heart” certainly is not what it sounds like most of the time. Caroline Rogers, in Southern Living, says “It’s a versatile phrase that has a thousand meanings—and just as many possible responses. Southerners know that the meaning of the phrase depends on the tone in which it’s spoken, and a slight change in inflection or volume can make all the difference.” Meaningless words.

Another expression used by us Southerners is “Y’all come to see us.” That is just a friendly way to say goodbye. We don’t have any expectation of the person following up and actually paying us a visit. Meaningless words.

When I make a purchase at Home Depot or pay for my meal at Wendy’s drive-through window I am likely to hear “Have a good day” or more often than not it is “Have a good ‘un” as I leave. Meaningless words.

The Huffington Post suggests that “Our everyday language has become littered with terms, so nondescript and ubiquitous that we barely even register their presence.” The writer goes on to list the 12 words that have been so overused they really don’t mean anything anymore: literally, unique, awesome, amazing, totally, basically, incredible, really, very, and honestly.

Conversations and writings often utilize words like liberal, conservative, moderate, and progressive. The meaning of each of those words is so loaded according to the individual’s political, social, or religious position. Seventy years ago, George Orwell wrote the prophetic essay, “Politics and the English Language,” in which he noted that politicians, journalists and academics were increasingly using meaningless words and euphemisms to make “lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and… give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” I wonder what Orwell would say today.

I wonder if “Christian” is in danger of suffering the same fate.

Jamie Jenkins

What are other meaningless words?

Do you think “Christian” is becoming a meaningless word?

 

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Have you ever walked up on a conversation and heard a remark that startled you? Amused or confused you? Since you didn’t hear previous comments or know the context, is it possible (maybe even likely) that you might come to a wrong conclusion about what was really said or intended?

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Likewise I wonder how often we misunderstand a situation since we don’t know the full story. Sometimes we don’t have enough information or maybe we just have partial knowledge and thus cannot fully know.  Partial knowledge or the absence of context can lead to errors of judgment and faulty opinions.

Recently in preparation for a trip we bought a new piece of luggage that was “on sale.” We made the purchase because it was marked down more than 50% of the original price. What a bargain. NOT! After getting home I checked a major online retailer and discovered that the exact piece of luggage was available for $22 less than the “marked down” item at a local department store. If we had known the full story before making the purchase, we probably would have made a different decision.

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon a news story about violence in the West Bank. Since I have been to Israel many times I clicked on the link (https://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2015/10/20/bethlehem-palestinian-israel-mideast-backstory-wedeman.cnn). What I found was Ben Wederman, CNN Senior International Correspondent, explaining how they cover the situation in Bethlehem, West Bank. He explained that he had been covering the situation at the same spot for over 20 years. Every Friday afternoon about 3:00, youth gather and throw stones and other objects at the Israeli soldiers stationed nearby at the wall that separates the Palestinians from Israel. The soldiers respond with rubber bullets and tear gas.

I have watched this orchestrated protest demonstration from my Jacir Palace Hotel room which can be seen in the background. The conflict in Israel and the West Bank is real and I do not intend to minimize its significance. If you watch television news for very long you will likely see scenes of violence in that region of the world. It is not unlikely that you will view the happenings described by this journalist. If you don’t know the full (back) story, it can appear that the entire city of Bethlehem is in an uproar when in actuality just blocks away it is business as usual in the beautiful bustling West Bank city.

When faced with difficult situations where people of faith are compelled to respond, Christians will often ask WWJD, What Would Jesus Do? That is a legitimate question and offers guidance on appropriate behavior but it is all too easy to pull one incident out of the Bible and make it the standard for conduct in all situations. The danger of this “cookie cutter” approach to the Scripture is you often don’t get the full story.

Mr. Sheffield Thompson was a self-taught man with a photographic memory. Although he lacked a lot of formal higher education, he was a genuine intellectual. He told me many times, “We do not know the historical Jesus. We only know the cultural Jesus we have created.” I think he was saying that we looked only at the aspects of Jesus that confirmed our already held beliefs. We failed to see Jesus in full character and used our limited understanding to sometime justify our misunderstanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

God help us to know the full story and pattern our lives accordingly.

Jamie Jenkins

Over three decades ago a friend expressed his opinion and regret that, “The day of civil discourse is past.” I wonder how he feels today more than 30 years later.

I have opinions (on just about everything) and I am willing to share them- if you will listen. I am open to discussions, conversations, civil discourse- but not arguments. I know that I am not always right…nor am I always wrong. Sometimes I am neither. Sometimes I am both. And I am willing to give you that same consideration.

When I am “for” something it does not mean that I am “against” everything or anyone else. If you disagree with me, I will respect your opinion. I may be firm but I never want to be harsh. I will not demonize you. I believe it is important to separate issues from people. People are more important.

There are people who jump on every bandwagon. Ready to rally to any cause. I am not one of them and might rightly be accused of not responding to situations that are critical to the well-being of others. I understand that every good and just effort requires a champion if results are to be achieved, if change is to occur.

Elie Wiesel said, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” I agree. There certainly are things that require a response. Demand a word. But not everything.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” He is right but everything does not need an immediate response and certainly not an angry and vindictive one. The ancient Greek, Euripides, reminds us that sometimes “silence is true wisdom’s best reply.”

Please do not misunderstand me. I believe that we need to be change agents and confront injustice and evil. That means that there are times when we stand up and speak up but we need to be careful to address issues and not attack persons. Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize recipient, suggests “The best way to solve problems and to fight against war is through dialogue.” That is true for any behavior or attitude that damages people.

Leah Ward Sears, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, offers this counsel: “We need to begin again to raise civil discourse to another level. I mean, we shout and scream and yell and get very little accomplished, but you can disagree very much with the next guy and still be friends and acquaintances.”

I am thankful if you agree with me. At the same time it is OK if you disagree. I simply ask that we treat each other with respect and dignity. It just might be that we can accomplish more together than either of us can alone.

Jamie Jenkins

As I write this I have been without television, internet, and phone service for 7 days. No Braves baseball, no webcam with the grandkids, no email, and no phone calls. Communication with the outside world has been cut off- unless I leave the house and go somewhere that has wifi.

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It is a long story but the simple explanation is that a week ago we experienced a power surge at our home that disrupted normal life. The culprit was an underground device that regulates the voltage coming into the house. Light bulbs broke, one light fixture exploded, the oven quit working, two air condition units ceased cooling, my computer crashed, the internet router died, the coffee maker is dead, and a few other minor problems occurred.

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The internet service provider is supposed to be here tomorrow- the fourth one that has paid us a visit. I am hopeful that everything will be back to normal by the time you read this. But who knows.

This has been a frustrating week. Yeah! It has been a stark reminder of how much we/I depend on technology to be able to stay in touch and how helpless I feel when the devices fail.

Pen and paper

I don’t use pen and paper as often as I did in the “olden days.” So simple things like preparing a Sunday School lesson, a funeral eulogy, and writing a letter seemed almost impossible. My research for a series of upcoming classes was locked away in the metal box that houses the hard drive of my computer. It was complicated to make an appointment for service personnel to assess the damage and make repairs.

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Under the best of circumstances communication is complicated. Words have different meanings to different people and at different times. Tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, environment, and a myriad of other factors make it difficult for accurate information and feelings to be shared. Effective communication is extremely important and incredibly complex.

Talk to God though short little prayers

I am glad that communication with God is not that hard. You don’t need any devices. Sometimes not even words (Romans 8:26). Our thoughts and intentions are known by God (Acts 15:8) so we don’t have to learn any technique or a new language. We can have confidence that our prayers are heard and, when offered with faith, are answered (Matthew 21:22).

 

The lyrics of an old gospel song has a simple message about how to communicate with God. “Jesus on the mainline, tell him what you want” suggests that the Lord is “on call” and you could just relay your needs to Him. Simple, huh?

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Although all our conversations with God should not be about “what we want,” talking to God is that easy. We can use our everyday vocabulary because God understands our language.

However we do it, we need to stay in touch with each other and with God.

Jamie Jenkins

The Word Warriors of Wayne State University believe that “we limit ourselves to words that are momentarily popular or broadly applicable, and so rob ourselves of English’s inherent beauty and agility.” Consequently this group of people are trying to help rejuvenate the language by “advocating for words of style and substance that see far too little use.”

“The English language has perhaps more words in its lexicon than any other,” said Jerry Herron, dean of WSU’s Irvin D. Reid Honors College and a member of the Word Warriors editorial board. “By making use of the repertoire available to us, we expand our ability to communicate clearly and help make our world a more interesting place. Bringing these words back into everyday conversation is just another way of broadening our horizons.”

One way this group of scholars in Detroit helps us to expand your vocabulary is through their annual list of words that we either have never known or have forgotten. They recently released their ninth annual list of words worthy of returning to regular use.

Here’s the words they recommend you start using:

Acedia: Spiritual or mental sloth; apathy.

Anfractuous: Indirect and containing bends, turns or winds; circuitous.

Blithering: Senselessly talkative, babbling; used chiefly as an intensive to express annoyance or contempt.

Bombinate: Buzz; hum.

Bucolic: Of or relating to the pleasant aspects of the countryside and country life.

Effulgent: 1. Shining brightly; radiant. 2. (Of a person or their expression) emanating joy or goodness.

Gauche: Lacking ease or grace; unsophisticated and socially awkward.

Guttle: To eat or drink greedily and noisily.

Mugwump: A person who remains aloof or independent, especially from party politics.

Stultify: Cause to lose enthusiasm and initiative, especially as a result of a tedious or restrictive routine.

You can pursue the meaning of these words and their proper use in a sentence if you wish. Then when you use them in conversation your friends and acquaintances will be impressed- or at least confused.

Although they have not been a part of my vocabulary, most of these words can be applied to my life in one way or another. There is no doubt that at times I am guilty of acedia. I certainly am blithering and gauche at times. I have been known to guttle. These are not very complimentary but can be used to accurately describe me and my behavior. But I think the one word that applies to me for which I offer no apology is mugwump.

I have never been called a mugwump (probably because most folks don’t know the word) but that is who I am, or try to be. I am not a person without an opinion. As a matter of fact, I have an opinion on just about everything and all too often I am willing to express it. However, it is clear to me that others have opinions that are different from mine and that is alright with me. I know that I can be wrong or that another opinion might offer a better or complimentary perspective.

While I hope my thoughts and opinions are respected, I make no claim to having a corner on the market of truth or wisdom. Mutual respect is very important and often I find that is often a missing ingredient in “party politics.” Elections, legislation, budgets, personnel, and a host of other issues tend to divide us in both secular and sacred settings.

 

 

If recognizing that the other person (or party) might have a better idea makes me a mugwump, this is who/what I am. I want to be willing to listen respectfully and when I disagree to be careful not to demonize the other person or ridicule their perspective.

As much as it is possible I want to live in peace with my fellow human beings loving them and respecting them at all times. I think that is what Jesus meant when he instructed us to “love one another… just as I have loved you” (John 13:34). And it is in keeping with the Apostle Peter’s admonition to “love one another, and be kind and humble with one another” (I Peter 3:8).

Jamie Jenkins

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps you have played the Gossip Game. The first person in a group is handed a piece of paper with a gossip phrase or sentence written on it. This player reads the phrase but doesn’t show it to anyone else. He or she whispers the phrase to the next person in line, who whispers what they thought they heard to the next person, and so on down the line. The last person repeats what he/she heard to the entire group. The first person then tells the group what the phrase actually was.

If you have played the game, you know that the final report is always much different from what is was at the beginning. That simple game demonstrates how difficult it is communicate effectively and accurately. What one hears is not necessarily what is said. People “have the unique ability to listen to one story and hear another” (Pandora PoikilosExcuse Me, My Brains Have Stepped Out).

Cover of Review of General Psychology (medium)

The fact that language is not always a reliable vehicle for communication leads to gossip and the spreading of rumors.  Researchers wrote in a 2004 study in the Review of General Psychology: “In many cases defamation of the target’s character is not the primary goal, and may even be irrelevant.” Nevertheless, conversations or reports about other people or events easily result in details that are not confirmed as being true. It is just the way it works but sometimes it is intentional.

In the book, The Untrivial Pursuit, Joseph Epstein says, “Gossip is no trivial matter; despite its reputation. He also concludes that gossip has “morphed from its old-fashioned best—clever, mocking, a great private pleasure—to a corrosive new-school version, thanks to the reach of the mass media and the Internet.”

American poet and philosopher Criss Jami concludes that “Popular culture is a place where pity is called compassion, flattery is called love, propaganda is called knowledge, tension is called peace, (and) gossip is called news.” In this age of information, social media provides a much faster way to share gossip. In only a matter of minutes, gossip and rumors can spread online around the world.

When we are bombarded with information, how do we filter it? How do we separate useful information from gossip? The most obvious answer would be of course to use our common sense. However, that clearly doesn’t seem to be helping. This story of the Greek philosopher Socrates might help us make better judgments about the information that we consume on the internet or from any source.

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In ancient Greece, Socrates was visited by an acquaintance of his. Eager to share some juicy gossip, the man asked if Socrates would like to know the story he’d just heard about a friend of theirs. Socrates replied that before the man spoke, he needed to pass the “Triple-Filter” test.

 

He explained, the first filter is Truth. “Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to say is true?” The man shook his head. “No, I actually just heard about it, and …”

Socrates cut him off. “You don’t know for certain that it is true, then. Is what you want to say something good or kind?” Again, the man shook his head. “No! Actually, just the opposite. You see …”

Socrates lifted his hand to stop the man speaking. “So you are not certain that what you want to say is true, and it isn’t good or kind. One filter still remains, though, so you may yet still tell me. That is Usefulness or Necessity. Is this information useful or necessary to me?”  A little defeated, the man replied, “No, not really.”

“Well, then,” Socrates said, turning on his heel. “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all.”

The Bible offers the following instruction that underscores Socrates’ instruction: “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts. Never say anything that isn’t true. Have nothing to do with lies and misleading words” (Proverbs 4:23-24Good News Translation).

Jamie Jenkins

 

 

 

 

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Clarence Carter is a singer who was blind from birth. He was born January 14, 1936 in Montgomery Alabama and early on exhibited an interest and talent for music. He taught himself to play the guitar by listening to the blues classics of John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Jimmy Reed. At the Alabama School for the Blind in Talladega, Alabama he learned to transcribe charts and arrangements in Braille. In 1960 he graduated from Alabama State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in music.

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Jason  Ankeny said his musical style “exemplified the gritty, earthy sound of Muscle Shoals R&B, fusing the devastating poignancy of the blues with a wicked, lascivious wit to create deeply soulful music rooted in the American South of the past and the present.” Between 1968 and 2015 Carter recorded 37 albums. More than 20 of his singles were in the top 100 songs on Pop and R&B charts.

Carter’s 1999 album, Everybody Plays the Fool, contained a song with the following lyrics:

You talk too much. You worry me to death.

You talk too much. You even worry my pet.

You just talk, talk, too much.

Do you know such a person? Have you been that person? I do and I have. I don’t know why but sometimes I just don’t know when to stop talking. I have been told that I can talk a lot and say very little. Guilty! I know there are times when words are not helpful or appropriate but I just cannot help myself. When I am uncomfortable with silence, I often break the silence by talking.

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Lydia Dishman, in an article entitled “The Science of Why We Talk Too Much (And How To Shut Up),” says, “The ideal conversation should be a total give and take, with each person speaking about 50% of the time. That means staying quiet half the time.”

OK, but how do you achieve this 50-50 conversational ideal? Rob Lazebnik, a writer on The Simpsons, says it is easy: just ask questions. Then actually listen to what the other person is saying, and find openings.

Easy? Lazebnik said it was but then he said, “Talking is like drinking a great Cabernet. Listening is like doing squats. Listening is like reading a corporate report. Talking is like eating a cinnamon bun.” Easy? Baseball fans can understand his analogy: “Talking is a Miguel Cabrera home run. Listening is getting hit in the head by it.”aaeaaqaaaaaaaalvaaaajge5m2mzngrjltjhzgqtndnimi04njhhlwfjotjmmdc5zmy3ma

Studies have shown that most people who are talkaholics are aware of the amount of talking they do, are unable to stop, or do not see it as a problem. I am confessing- I know I talk too much and sometimes I cannot help myself but I understand that talking too much is a problem.

I know that in silence one can hear not only what is being said, but also what is not being said. But how does one withstand the pressure to speak?

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In a conversation a long time ago one person said that he had no real talent, nothing to offer for the benefit of others. When pressed, he finally said, “Well, I am a good listener.” He seemed to have no understanding of the value of listening.

There is a time to speak and a time to stop speaking. A time to talk and a time to listen (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Lord, help me to learn the difference.

Jamie Jenkins

A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet. 

Truman Capote

Several years ago Henry H. Knight III and Don E. Saliers wrote a book entitled The Conversation Matters. Because it specifically addressed concerns in The United Methodist Church, the sub-title was Why United Methodists Should Talk With One Another. I regret that I gave away my copy of that book when I retired three years ago.

The current climate, both secular and religious, demonstrates the need for guidance as we discuss (debate) issues of significance for all people. It seems that we are more likely to yell AT one another than to talk TO one another, especially when it comes to “hot button” issues. Knight and Saliers offer wise counsel to everyone, not just the targeted denominational population. We need to learn, or re-learn, how to talk WITH one another. That is true in all segments of society.

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Christian conferencing was a cornerstone of the early Methodist Movement. John Wesley believed that Christians gathered together in conversation guided by the Holy Spirit could discern God’s will. Christian conferencing was one of the Means of Grace that Wesley taught to assist persons in their spiritual formation.

I believe that John Wesley was onto something that will work not only for Christians but for people of all religious or non-religious orientations. If people will “reason together,” the possibility of solutions to our plaguing problems are promising.

“Discussion is impossible with someone who claims not to seek the truth, but already to possess it.”
Romain Rolland, Above the Battle

The introduction to Knight and Saliers’ book said, “While applauding those of the left and right for their commitments to matters of conviction, the authors point out that the acrimonious and accusatory nature of current debates does little to forward the truth that both sides contend is at stake. The authors argue for the recovery of … a way of carrying on debate that is (1) true to principles believed to be of crucial importance and (2) open to the possibility of changing one’s mind. They argue for ‘speaking the truth in love’ in a way that makes respect and love for others the paramount concern, and in which making an argument is not the same thing as having an argument.”

“I still believe in man in spite of man. I believe in language even though it has been wounded, deformed, and perverted by the enemies of mankind. And I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal, to wound or to console.”
Elie Wiesel, Open Heart

The Apostle Paul offers guidance in his words to the Colossians when he said, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  … Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

In a letter to United Methodists Bishop Janice Huie wrote, ” In much of the Western world, results are measured in terms of winners and losers. Holy Conferencing does not work that way. It focuses on discerning where God is leading us. It focuses on prayer, rational and respectful conversation, and a belief that with God, all things are possible.”

Lord, help us to regain the ability to have civil dialogue and mutual respect for all people.

Jamie Jenkins