Friday, January 24, 2014

Speaking my language

       A number of years ago, I was, as part of my job, responsible for a student residential facility.  We housed eighteen students on three residential floors.  It was a sort of co-op, but with a programmatic component.  We wanted a mix of students on each floor -- gender, race, religion, etc.  We wanted the students to learn from one another both in structured ways (programs, service projects, etc.) AND as they negotiated the various responsibilities for keeping their living areas usable for all the members of their floor.
       One of the questions I had on the application was "Describe how you would go about cleaning the kitchen.  What supplies would you need, etc.?"  My intention in asking that question was to find out of the applicant was a "Clutter" or "Grime" person -- those being two distinct ways of approaching a messy space.  As you might expect a "Clutter" person wants the surfaces cleared off, maybe a swept floor, and all of the appliances/pots/pans in their place.  A "Grime" person pulls out the toothpicks to clean the numbers on the dials on the stove.  De-cluttering doesn't take long; de-grime-ing does.  A Grime person doesn't feel that a de-cluttered room is "clean".  A Clutter person gets tired of waiting for the Grime person to find enough time to get to the task!  Having, therefore, a good mix of Clutter/Grime people on a residential floor is beneficial!  Having conversations ABOUT those differences in speaking the "Cleaning Language" helped defuse a number of tense situations.
       Similarly, when I work with couples who want to be married, I encourage them to discover their "Love Language".  If you've not heard of this, the theory (developed by anthropologist and pastor Gary Chapman) is that, regardless of culture, each individual has one of five primary ways of expressing and receiving love:*
  • Words of Affirmation ("I know you love me because you tell me")
  • Acts of Service ("I know you love me because you do things for me/us")
  • Receiving Gifts ("I know you love me because you give me things")
  • Quality Time ("I know you love me because you make time for me")
  • Physical Touch ("I know you love me because you hug me")
Future spouses knowing their own Love Language and that of their intended makes for much better overall communication.  As an example, for me (an "Acts of Service" guy) to express affection for my wife (a "Quality Time" gal) means that while I might do the dishes a lot, thinking that it will express undying affection, what she REALLY wants is for me to put down the dishrag and TALK with her!  (And, of course, the opposite is true.)
      It seems to me that, often, we (as individuals, groups, nations, etc.) speak our "languages" expecting the other to understand completely.  Members of one religion may assume that members of another understand what "salvation" or "prayer" or "God" means -- and be entirely off-base.  Conversely, members of modern democratic states may misunderstand the rights and responsibilities of members of ancient feudal societies (e.g., those that produced many sacred texts) and draw entirely incorrect conclusions.  The caution, of course, is that communication is a difficult challenge and requires not only our best efforts, but also a great amount of humility.  But isn't that what good relationships are all about?  


Chaplain Gary

*  Coincidentally, it was one of the students in that above-mentioned residential facility who introduced me to the Five Love Languages.  If you want to know more about them, and take a quiz to discover yours along with a bunch of suggestions as to how to express them, visit:

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