“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” --James 1:19
Recently, I took my email off of my phone. I did this for two reasons. First, for the preservation of my relationships. I found myself obsessively checking my email trying to always be present and available for others, which often meant I was not fully present and available for myself or loved ones in the moments I had set aside for rest, renewal and reconnection.
The second reason was I was trying to get caught up quickly so I wouldn’t have to face an overflowing email box the next morning. I would read an incoming email without thoroughly comprehending the content. I find this to be one of the most difficult things about emails: I find it hard to hear and listen to the full message from the other person. In an email, I cannot read someone’s face or body language. I cannot hear the tone of their voice or the inflections in their speech. And sometimes this causes misunderstanding.
While emails might seem more efficient, they can be problematic. Think about the last time you tried to keep track of a lengthy conversation within an email thread. Sometimes I imagine email threads to be like one person coming in your door to share an idea or option and then immediately leaving right before another person comes through the door to share their idea or opinion on the subject or even something completely different. To make matters more complicated, while the other person is waiting in the hallway to jump in to make their voice known, they only hear snippets of what others have said, which confuses matters more. For me, email threads can often feel like a bad game of “telephone” because it is hard to listen to all the voices in the conversation.
Another way emails can be problematic is when someone wants to talk about a difficult subject in writing rather than in person. We have all been guilty of this. It is much easier to send something off in an email than pick up the phone and face our discomfort in entering into a hard conversation.
As a general rule, it is never a good idea to send an email when we are upset, anxious, angry, or maybe even tired. Too many times you have either written an email or read an email which illustrates the danger of what can happen when we do not employ this rule. I try to have a personal rule that if I am upset, anxious, or angry I don’t send the email or a reply to an email for 24 hours. I don’t want to say something I will later regret if I have not given myself time to process what I have heard, experienced, or would like to communicate.
In the last couple of weeks, I have witnessed quite a few email misunderstandings. Times when people were not being heard. Times when people were misunderstood. And when words are unwisely chosen, they can cause emotional harm and damage to relationships.
I wonder if the writer of James was reflecting on those times when they experienced people not being heard, people being misunderstood or people not wisely choosing their words when they wrote this simple gem of profound advice, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” This is not only wonderful advice when it comes to emails, but also just plain wonderful advice in all the ways we communicate and connect with others.
Imagine if we were slower to push send. Imagine if we were slower to think about what we wanted to say next. Imagine if we were slower in processing what others were saying, putting ourselves in their shoes, and seeking clarification. Imagine if instead of being quick to become angry about our assumed intent. Imagine if we asked the Spirit of God to help us listen so we might more fully hear and understand others AND also ask the Spirit of God to give us the right words at the right moment to speak. Just imagine...
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister