From time to time, adjustments are needed in the way we communicate with others. I recall a phase a few years back (when all eight of our kids lived at home) when there was a lot of bickering going on among family members. All of us. Verbal jabs, sarcastic comments, and accusations had somehow become routine forms of communication.
But wait, my wife and I thought. We’re a family. We love one another. We can do better than this.
The solution? Every night after dinner, we began to go around the table and each of us would identify at least one thing we were grateful for that day relating to another family member. It could be something they had done, or a character quality we appreciated.
“I’m grateful to Mom for making my favorite dinner tonight.”
“I’m grateful to Christian for being patient with me, and helping me with my homework today.”
“I’m grateful for T.J. having such a terrific sense of humor.”
And on it went.
Although it felt a bit awkward at first, we all improved quickly, especially the younger kids who proved to be gratitude rock stars. Over the course of time, this simple exercise actually helped the culture of our family to become more positive, humble, and mutually supportive.
I was reminded of this exercise the other day. I’ve been busy promoting my new book, How God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming Into the Catholic Church. In one social media group, a woman posted a rather nasty comment, and it struck me that our broader culture is in the same place my family was as we struggled through our negative phase – verbal jabs, sarcastic comments and accusations have somehow become routine forms of communication.
So what’s the solution? Obviously, we all can’t just go around the table after dinner. But perhaps a few ground rules could be useful for those of us who would like to see a basic sense of human dignity restored within our culture. I recognize that not everyone strives for that goal, but thankfully many people do. For those who would like to be part of the solution, I humbly offer the following thoughts – recognizing this is far from a comprehensive solution:
- Lead with respect. Even if someone else is a jerk, it’s usually reflective of things going on in their own lives – and there’s a lot of pain in this world that we don’t see at first glance. Giving others the benefit of the doubt up front, rather than responding indignantly, can help us see past the various masks people wear and lead to a more meaningful dialogue.
- Remain humble. This doesn’t come naturally to most of us, myself included, but humility is a key to authenticity and building real relationships with others. It causes us to focus on others more and ourselves less, and we could use a bit of that these days.
- Resist manipulation. We’ve all seen how hyper-sensitivity and outrage have become blunt instruments in the hands of those who seek to manipulate others. This desensitizes us to things we really should be outraged about, and makes for a lot of angry people. Whatever happened to the manipulation-free “I disagree with your beliefs, but will defend to the death your right to believe them” way of thinking?
- Be grateful. Have you ever noticed that when we focus on what we don’t have, it breeds misery, and conversely, appreciating what we do have makes us happy? There are a lot of good people in this world. Personally, I consider my family and friends to be an embarrassment of riches. Maybe we can begin reflecting this by being intentionally grateful towards another person at least once a day?
- As I describe (through many deeply humiliating stories) in my new book, a lot of people put up with me during my teen years to the point of heroic virtue. Can we invest in others, be willing to endure some pain along the way, and hold out hope for all of us, even those who are the most difficult?
You don’t need to go far to find astonishing comments in comboxes and media of all sorts – and our culture follows our communication. If we want things to improve, we need to begin with the only people we can change – ourselves. I actually attempted to follow my own advice with How God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming Into the Catholic Church, which was written in a manner intended to be respectful to non-Catholics – including many family members, who happily, have responded enthusiastically.
I’m far from perfect, and so is this list, but perhaps we can learn to avoid routinely communicating via verbal jabs, sarcasm, and accusations. Maybe we can do better. I invite you to join me in trying.
Thank you for visiting gratefulconvert.com!