Every expression of language has three basic imports: what is articulated, why it is articulated and how it is articulated. The first concern in communication is usually with how things are articulated, even though this promotes superficiality. The next most important thing in most people’s minds is why something is articulated. They try to deal as directly as possible with the intention, guessing at what lies behind the surface meaning of someone’s words, even though this promotes wrangling.
Consider the immortal words, “judge not, that ye be not judged.” What do those simple words mean? In our context, perhaps the broadest and most important of all contexts, they mean at least this:
Don’t jump to conclusions when interpreting anyone, especially negative ones. Don’t presume on the basis of perceived tone. Don’t presume about objectives or psychology.
Register the precise, ordinary meaning of the words the person is using. Respond with courtesy and clarity (and all the intuition you can).
Perhaps more than any other time in its history, the world today is hostage to the vanity reflex, and strangely proud of it. People imagine that it must be somehow possible to speak only truth without anyone ever getting upset (though apparently it wasn’t possible for Christ), so potentially upsetting words are presumed shameful.
Sometimes we see clearly enough, in a certain respect, why something is being said. If so, we are seeing only a small aspect of the sum-total motivation, which is as generally hidden to the speaker or writer as to the people hearing or reading. Just as physical science shows that, to a mind-boggling degree, organisms are more complex than they appear, occult science increasingly does the same with psychology. It couldn’t be otherwise given the absolute unity and infinite detail of reality.
When people refer to how something is said, they usually mean perceived tone, gestures, and so on which have an immediate and apparent effect. This is a superficial level compared to the deeper reality which concerns applied causes.
When something is articulated with insight, courage, self-control, innocence of presumption, or wisdom, there is a useful and beautiful effect, irrespective of what immediate reactions occur.
If these things are lacking, however, then there is a deleterious, wasteful effect, irrespective of all charisma in communication, or immediate reactions of appreciation. Many historical instances of oratory testify to this.
We are all and always called to make a better world. Such work cannot bypass the central problems outlined here and ignoring them just makes them worse. Whether we deal with them directly or obliquely, let’s live as if we are starting to turn the tide.