By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
I first came across the coined word “comm-YOU-nication” when reading the book How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes. She describes the word as a communication technique that emphasizes the YOU first, before the ME, in a conversation. According to her book, the ability to listen to the other person enhances effective interaction. She beautifully explains how the term can help towards building a healthy relationship when applied appropriately in interpersonal communication. The “YOU” in the word implies that people feel a greater sense of worth when we make them feel that they matter. This is the antithesis of self-centeredness. She explains that when I am in a relationship with you, putting you first will strengthen and give value to the relationship. I couldn’t agree more.
As I read and reflected on Lowndes words, her crafting of the word “comm-YOU-nication” made me think of another word I will call “comm-ME-nication.” I decided to coin and play on this word, too. I thought of what would happen to a relationship that was centered on comm-ME-nication. This word, unlike comm-YOU-nication, denotes a self-centered form of relationship that is always focusing on the me, the I and the myself. This is surely a relationship breaker. Many of us fall victim to comm-Me-nication in those times when someone is genuinely trying to share his or her story with us, and instead of listening to him/her we’re rather in a hurry to share our “own” stories. We turn people off when, instead of listening, we try to exert ourselves, our opinions, and our feelings over everyone else’s in every conversation.
Many marriages are broken, families are torn apart, friendships are damaged and our communities are fractured because we have replaced the “YOU” with the “ME” in our relationships and interactions. We live in a world that is so torn apart religiously, politically, and racially. It seems that no one is listening to the other person any more. How glorious it would be if everyone thought of the other person as equally relevant, important and valuable! One good description of a fundamental value in human relationships is found in the text of Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” In our relationships with one another we should always consider the YOU — the other person. Let’s compliment our spouses, let’s listen to our friends’ viewpoints, let’s allow our family members to feel among, let’s develop a community of listeners, let’s acknowledge the good in other people. Remember, it is in giving that we receive. If all the YOU’s leave the world for ME, I will be a walking shadow and a lonely, lifeless being.
The world has brought us together in such a way that we cannot help seeing and living with the other person who doesn’t share my religious views, doesn’t accept my political opinions, doesn’t look like me, etc. We don’t have to have common views; we don’t have to agree on our political ideologies or religious beliefs, or even our perception of life in general. But we must agree on our common humanity. As a family, as a community of faith, as a nation, and as individuals we will learn more, live better, and be happier if we go a little farther away from comm-Me-nication and begin to comm-YOU-nicate. There is great power in listening.
Father Jacob Dankasa is a parochial vicar at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Plano.