I am a huge Michael Jackson fan. I grew up on MJ. His videos are still the standard against all other music videos are measured. He is the greatest performer of all time. Hands. Down. I remember watching the first time he moonwalked on TV (Motown’s 25th Anniversary Special) during which he performed “Billie Jean”. The performance was broadcast on NBC on March 25th, 1983.
Can you believe it was that long ago?
His videos still bring a smile to my face because they represent seminal memories for me and they represent excellence.
His videos were prime time premieres on national television, y’all! Yes, CBS, NBC, ABC. This does not happen anymore. This is why he is in a class all his own.
I even remember where I was when I learned of his death. So sad! I still grieve his death because he was so good at what he did.
I could talk about MJ all day. But I digress.
The last thing I will say is that one of my favorite music videos by Michael Jackson is for “Remember the Time”. The video itself is over 9 minutes long. Worth every minute. The choreography is insane. The theatrics and special effects were unprecedented at the time. Even Magic Johnson was in the video.
Remember. The. Time.
The title of the song speaks of a love relationship. But, in my mind, the title speaks of recalling unprecedented, even special times in the past. And so, to that end, the song actually makes me think of a Bible verse found in Genesis. I know. It is a stretch and kinda weird. But here it is:
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.
There was a time when the earth had one language. What?
There was a time when all the people of the world used the same words. What?
A long time ago…in a galaxy far, far away…right? Cue Star Wars music…
Imagine with me, for one moment, if that verse could be a statement of accurately describing our world in 2015:
One language. The same words.
Think of the potential of that state of affairs. Unlimited potential for mutual understanding and peace. Yet, as the rest of chapter 11 details, there was also unlimited potential for evil.
But think of what the world would be like if we communicated with one language. And used the same words to convey our messages to one another.
Think of what your country would look like if you all spoke one language and used the same words.
Think of your region, your state, your city, your neighborhood, your church, your job…
Your house. Wow. How would things be different in those places were this the case?
“Donnie, we do talk the same language in my home, church, job, etc.!”
Yeah, we might speak a common language (English, Spanish, etc.) depending on what your national/ethnic heritage is, but let’s dig deeper.
Truth be told, we don’t speak the same language.
The poor and the rich don’t speak the same language.
Blacks and whites don’t use the same words.
Republicans and Democrats don’t speak the same language.
The young and the old don’t use the same words.
Wesleyans and Baptists don’t speak the same language.
See, communication is fundamental to human beings. Yet, we do not speak the same language, for the most part. We do not use the same words, generally speaking. And this leads to strained relationships and an ever-increasing divide between people and communities.
Whether our communication is verbal or non-verbal, our signals get crossed up frequently. And so we see the debilitating effects surrounding us every day on the news and in the media.
MLK had it right: “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.”
If we dig deeper, here are two possible underlying causes:
1. We don’t listen very well.
2. We come from different cultures.
We Don’t Listen Very Well
The emphasis in communication should be on listening. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason, right? Yet most of us talk entirely too much and listen far too little.
“Can you hear me now?”
Many of us equate hearing with listening. They could not be further apart.
Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. If you are not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences. Listening leads to learning. Hearing does not.
Did you know that 50% of typical workday spent communicating? Of that 50%, 45% is designed to be spent listening. But some of us are only participating by hearing. Some researchers estimate that up to 45% of business person’s salary is earned through listening.
I don’t listen well. I can own that. In fact, I promise you that the vast majority of the arguments I have had with my wife during the last 14 years were due to the fact that I heard one thing, but she said something entirely different. I heard her, but I wasn’t listening.
Did you know that good listeners are perceived as more intelligent? That they save time, energy, and other resources? That they have an increased probability of advancement and success in their professional environment?
Some of us are on the other side of this formula. Rather than not listening to others, we are the ones not being listened to. We are not being heard. The human voice is a valuable and precious gift. Everyone’s voice deserves attention. The poor. The young. The disenfranchised. The under-represented. Their voices are silenced each and every day. And they are angry. Wouldn’t you be angry if every time you went to speak, you were told to shut up?
If we ever want to overcome the chasm between people and communities, somebody has got to start listening. If you ever want to heal that broken relationship, marriage, or friendship, someone has got to start listening. If you want any kind of joy, contentment, or success in your future relationships, friendships, or marriages, you need to start listening. Selah.
We Come from Different Cultures
I used to teach Intercultural Communication to university students. The first thing I would teach my students is that intercultural communication is as complex as the sum total of human differences. I would teach them that culture is learned, it is a shared system, and it is an integrated whole. I would teach them about the three categories of culture: technological, sociological, ideological.
It’s deep, y’all.
Think about this: there are over 3500 ethnic groups in the world and yet no two of them have identical cultural configurations. It is nuts, y’all.
Keep in mind, there are no a-cultural people. You might think you don’t have a culture, but you are sadly mistaken. All of us were born into a cultures and several subcultures. Over time, we became enculturated into the ways of that particular culture. Period.
We’ve got our work cut out for us. But I will end this post by saying this:
I advocate for every Christian to learn to embrace and pursue difference. Not to fear it. Not to run from it, but seek it out. Love difference. But more than that, love people. But more than that. Love their culture. Love their system, their values, even their worldview. You may not understand it. You might not even agree with it. But this ain’t about you. It is about learning to love people who are not like you, just like Jesus did for you – for while you were yet a sinner – completely and utterly unlike him – he came and died for you. That, my friends, is a love of distinction.