Category Archives: Communication

Listening, instead of speaking . . .

In the last few months I have been near our first grand-child.   She is beginning to make sounds: all sorts of sounds.   She will look at me, make a sound as though she is replying to all of the strange and grandfather like sounds that I make toward her.   Maybe, she is just saying,  “Papa, don’t be so silly!”    One day, though, she will reply and I will understand her.

That brings me to ask: What is the origin of language? 

Years ago an Egyptian king by the name of Psammethichus (Psamtik) wanted to know the origin of language.  He took two human infants and isolated them until they spoke.  The first word they spoke was bekos , the word for bread in Phrygian, a language dead for thousands of years.  The king concluded that must Phrygian must be man’s natural language.

Since the time of Psammethichus, others have conducted experiments desiring to discover the origin of language.  Their conclusions ranged from Hebrew, to Swedish, to Danish, to French, to German.

What is the origin of language?  In essence, the origin of language comes from being with other people and first listening to them speak.  In Mark 7:31-37, Jesus provided a model for the origin of language.  In essence, Jesus first enabled the man to hear, then to speak.  Listening, a way to learn, is prior to speaking in the natural sequence of communication.

As seen, this notion of language being learned has not always been held.  Many people have searched for man’s natural language, but the origin of language is in first listening.  Language like culture is not biologically inherited; it is learned.  The simple implication is that we need to listen both linguistically and culturally before we speak when entering a culture other than our own.

Promises ???

So many promises!  While in route from one place to another, I glanced through the flight magazine and noticed the many advertistment promises from businesses, companies, and people.  A few of those included . . .

“Live where legends play.”

“Want to know where you stand in the bigger picture?”

“Get the royal treatment!”

“Twice as nice.”

“The essence of beauty.”

“Savor the finer things in life.”

“numerous awards and recognitions.”

“Savor the finer things in life.”

“It’s like steroids for your career.”

“Finally you can have it all.”

Promises are disguised in culture.  In other words, promises such as the one’s above are culture specific.  As such, they have different meanings dependent upon one’s cultural frame of reference.

For instance, the promise “Get the royal treatment” comes interpreted in the eyes of the receiver.  Royal treatment to one person may be average treatment while to another person it may mean treatment for only a servant. 

Promises are only as good as they are able meet the receiver’s expectations.  Miscommunication and misunderstanding occurs when one party promises something that does not meet the expectation of the other cultural party.  It appears that businesses, companies, and people should spell out the details of their promises.  Why don’t they spell out the details?

Speaking Your Mind . . . Or . . . ???

Rather recently someone said to me, “Why don’t you just speak your mind!”  I paused and then thought, “This would never happen in many cultures.”

It is not uncommon for people in the USA to be upfront and speak their mind.  Americans often believe that being direct is the most efficient way to communicate.  The phrases “tell it like it is” and “speak your mind” — express such a value. Being direct is often valued over “beating around the bush.”   Consequently, Americans are often assertive, open and direct about their thoughts and feelings.   In fact, however, in other cultures, such behavior is often seen as being rude or expressing anger inappropriately.

Why is it that Americans often neglect and even ignore value systems when they travel abroad?  Some speak their mind, even to the point of embarrassing a new cultural friend.  Instead, Americans should learn that not all cultures have this same value: a value of being “upfront”.   In some cultures, the “normal” way to disagree or to say no is to say nothing.  Cross-culturally, it is sometimes better to keep one’s mouth shut than open.  Our tongue can easily cause more harm than good.  The Bible confirms this saying,

And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?  Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. (James 3:6-12, NRSV).

So, the next time you travel abroad, don’t let the things you hear, the sights you see, or the smells you smell influence you to speak your mind.  Instead, hold your tongue and don’t speak your mind.  You will then find yourself in a better place to not only understand the situation but also learn from the people.