“Simplifying important but complex messages can be a necessary and valuable approach for increasing the reach of those messages. But when simplification renders the message inaccurate, the mission is harmed.”
—Dr. Heather E. Heying
While I was on a quick, 24-mile hike with an acquaintance, she commented that I would talk about things which “made no sense.” While they made plenty of sense to me, and I was conveying correct information, I wasn’t building up the knowledge base required to understand the subject matter. In essence, I was “starting a story half-way through.”
This is a deleterious penchant of mine, wherein I expect that those who I converse with have the same knowledge set as me. In educational psychology, it can be said that I fail to account for the zone of proximal development. Imagine three, concentric circles. The outermost circle is a task or subject that someone cannot yet do. The middle ring is what the person can do with help/understand with assistance; the innermost ring is what they can already do or know. The middle ring is called the zone of proximal development. It’s the area into which a learner can currently grow and develop.
It is imperative to reduce messages to a level which the audience can understand. Luke Wilson, a man from Billings, told me that he liked to have people try to teach subjects to kids, because being able to reduce information that much, while keeping the point intact, shows that you can truly teach. I agree, and I’m miserable at this, as it stands.
As Dr. Heying (rhymes with “flying”) notes, though, we mustn’t “dumb things down a shade” such that the information content is no longer correct. Instead, I believe, we need to work on foundational information so that the learner can handle the “meat” rather than just the “milk.” As I mentioned before, I am exceptionally bad at this. I can never tell how people feel about me until they’re in my face (romantically or in anger), and I also always assume that everyone knows exactly how I feel about them.
While romance is a subject on which my expertise can be considered somewhere between “dubious at best” and “grossly negligent but not illegal” at worst, it ultimately is a great example of communication. In talking about this with a best friend, I noted that, after many years of wondering why, for example, I have never been married, and many of my high school classmates have been multiple times, I realized something: the common denominator is me. Eventually, one must assess one’s own behavioral patterns. Using my father as an extreme example, he’s been married 15 or 16 times. There is a common denominator there that is more than simply “picked a bad one out of the bunch.”
I am also the common denominator. This friend pointed out that other folks are willing to love bomb people they appreciate, while I tend to keep people at arm’s length. “They should know that I appreciate them, and I shouldn’t have to show it in a way that could seem manipulative” however, is a hugely problematic proclamation. It’s the same with, “They should know that X is true without me having to break things down and spoonfeed them.”
So how in the world does this tie in to the opening quote? My ultimate failure in communication is not one of ineptitude due to lack of aptitude. My ultimate failure stems from a failure to value someone. Honesty and passion in communication, when combined, convey a powerful punch. Without them, the message is likely to be lost or not remembered. If you’re not willing to be open about your emotions, you are not valuing the other person, nor your communication with them. (In matters of emotion.) If you’re not willing to help people learn by meeting them where they’re at, you’re not valuing them, nor your communication with them.
When we fail to take the time and effort to communicate, even when it seems that what we’re saying is obvious, it shows a sloppy and casual attitude to our valuation of the person we’re communicating with. At best, I think it causes the person on the receiving end to be uninterested in what we have to convey, and at worst, I think it makes them feel scorned or stupid. This is not to say that we shouldn’t learn and improve each other’s standards, but we also should not talk over the heads of others “just because we’re right.” I probably do that too much.
In closing, notice that everything about this verse is quite active; it requires dedication, commitment, and action:
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”— Col 4:6
With love, always,