The Gift of Communication

The Gift of Communication

Letting people speak, letting them communicate, is a vital part of recognising their human dignity.  Silencing people offends against their human rights.  Michael Traber of the World Association for Christian Communication suggests that

“……language and freedom are intertwined.  The gift of language is at the same time a gift of freedom.  Deprivation of freedom makes genuine communication impossible.”

Another aspect of authentic communication between people is that it depends for its value on equality.  If we treat the people we speak to as inferiors, what takes place between us cannot be communication worthy of the name.

And this leads us to consider the communication needs of those people in our society who are vulnerable – can they communicate with the rest of us?  Are they allowed to?  Granting them the right to communicate is part of their human dignity which we should be anxious to preserve. Traber speaks of

another type of loyalty often overlooked that sustains the right to communicate, namely loyalty towards, and solidarity with, the weak and most vulnerable in society, like the physically and mentally ill, or the very young and very old.” 

deaf and direct

As an example of the vulnerable, we can think of Deaf people, who have specific communication needs that need to be addressed and facilitated.  Deaf people need access to signing interpreters and, when hospitalised, need to be in a signing environment, ideally with staff who have some signing skills.

In considering the Deaf and communicating with them, the issue of cultural norms comes to mind.  Every culture has its own acceptable and unacceptable behaviours connected to conversation, and the Deaf culture is no exception.  Deaf people are often experienced by the Hearing as being direct or rude in the way they express themselves.

In one part, this is due to not having all the nuances of spoken language at their disposal, depending on the level of education they have had.  In another, this acts as their way of making sure the essence of their message really gets across, minimising the chances of being misunderstood by dispensing with unnecessary phrases.

Such directness however is not unique to the Deaf!

complexities and misunderstandings

Communication where there are mental health issues is a complex thing.  Do people know what they are saying? Do they mean what they say?  These are the obvious questions that spring to mind, although we could ask these questions of anyone whatever their mental health is assumed to be.  In fact, we often say the opposite of what we mean by everyday conventions.

Thus, “Tell me about it!” has come to mean “don’t tell me about it, I have had more than enough experience of what you are complaining about.”  Only the tone of voice, facial expression, or perhaps gesture, will tell us to ignore the plain meaning of what we have just said and interpret it ironically.

For people who operate in more than one language, there are other kinds of pitfalls.  Literal translation from one language to another seldom works.  For example, in German ‘so-genannt’ means ‘so called’, in the sense of  ‘that is what it is really called’, whereas ‘so called’ in English adds a suspicious or disapproving tone to whatever you have just named.

Words may look alike in different languages but mean different things.  For instance, ‘déception’ in French looks like the English word ‘deception’ but in fact means ‘disappointment’. 

To be part of society, we need to communicate with other people – if we are not communicating, we are isolated and disenfranchised.  Anything we do to enable communication to take place, to value communication by our reflective listening, will be part of the enfranchisement of those who are marginalised, part of guaranteeing their human dignity.

As such it is a task we cannot shirk – we owe it to our fellow human beings to make sure that we are all in this together, this thing called life.

See Also

Listening Attentively
Listening to the Psychotic
Lost for Words
The Mystery of Mental Illness