Thursday, October 6, 2011

You Talkin' To Me?

Shabbat Yom Kippur
10 Tishrei 5772 / October 7 - 8, 2011

“Al chet shechatanu lefanecha b’dibbur peh” – “For the sin we have committed before you in speech”

-Yom Kippur liturgy

“Don’t talk of stars, burning above, if you’re in love, show me.”

-My Fair Lady

We’ve all heard of someone having their significant other break up with them by changing their Facebook status from “in a relationship” to “single.” And we find something wrong with that – as we should. But why does that strike us as wrong? The answer is simple -- the mechanisms we use to communicate matter.

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, text messages, emails, phone calls, handwritten letters.

How do we communicate with one another? How do we determine which mechanism is the best suited for a particular communiqué from the many choices we have?

Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” which has been published for over 75 years and has sold over 30 million copies, recently received an update – as reported Wednesday morning in the Book Review section of the New York Times, it’s now titled “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age.” The world has changed, and so too, must our communication methods.

What we say, how we say it, and in which medium we communicate all make a difference. For example, we’ve all had moments where we take offense to an email we’re reading because the author’s intended sarcasm does not shine through the text. We have all said or written something and immediately wished we could take it back (it happened to me as recently as 2 days ago!). We have all been hurt by the words of others, and thus it is fair to assume that our words have caused pain as well.

A particularly difficult type of communication is criticism. The ancient rabbis make it clear that there are certain instances where we’re required to criticize one another – when we’ve stepped too far over the line. But how are we communicating such criticism? Do we sandwich the critique between compliments? Do we try to empathize with the person we’re communicating with? Is the criticism coming from a place of love rather than hate? Are we ourselves open to having others critique us?

Despite humanity having more communication mechanisms than ever before, studies have shown that as Americans, we on average are lonelier than those who came before us. What gives?

“I love you.” Arguably the most powerful words we possess. How you say it, when you say it, and to whom you say it all matter. To say “I love you” on a first date makes you crazy and un-dateable. To say it to everyone you know may cheapen the meaning we ascribe to it. To say it never may cause pain to those who would typically fall into the category of “loved ones.” Take a moment and think about the phrase. Do we say it often enough? Who do we say it to? Do we mean it? Do we recognize the positive power of the phrase? Most importantly, do we show it?

How do we communicate our values as a people? Rabbi Akiva said that the greatest single principle in the entire Torah is to love your neighbor as yourself. We’ve all heard the adage “actions speak louder than words.” Will you commit, with me, to finding a way in the year to come to do community service on at least a monthly basis? To setting aside a regular time for Torah study? To showing the love you’ve verbally expressed to others?

As we enter Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, let us reflect on how we can better communicate with others and be more conscious of the mediums we use to do so, how we share our love with others, and how in the year to come we can meaningfully put our words into action.

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