Although I like the Internet and most of its features and benefits, when it comes to sending and receiving communications of any substance, I hate email. I long for the good old days (20 years ago) when people wrote real letters, folded them up, placed them in envelopes addressed to the intended recipients, and mailed them.
Here’s what people did before there was email: First they thought about what they were going to say. Sometimes they even prepared an outline of what they were going to cover in the letter. Then they composed the letter using proper grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. After they were finished, they read the letter, and if something didn’t make sense or needed changing, they made the necessary changes. Once they were satisfied the letter conveyed the right message, they folded and placed it in an envelope for mailing at a later time.
Something very important occurred when people had to actually sit down and go through the work required to write and send a letter: Most of the time they didn’t bother to write the letter. Instead, they either used the telephone to call the person they wanted to communicate with, or they got in their car and went to actually talk to the person. And sometimes they even decided what they wanted to say wasn’t important enough to go through the work of saying it, so they ended up doing nothing.
In my opinion, the adoption of email, social media, and texting as the primary way in which most people now interact with each other has removed the need to develop the critical skills that are necessary for effective one-on-one communication.
Last month, one of my college-student daughters started a new part-time job with a local organization. While she was interviewing for the job, she told the person who interviewed her that there were certain days she could not work. After her first week of work, she checked online to see what her schedule was for the upcoming week and discovered her supervisor had scheduled her to work on one of the days she had told the interviewer she wasn’t available.
I found out about my daughter’s situation when she approached me with her iPhone in her hand and said, “Dad, my boss scheduled me for a day I can’t work. I’m sending her an email to tell her I can’t work on that day. If I read it to you, will you tell me if you think it’s okay to send?”
My response was, “You asked me the wrong question. Isn’t there a different question you should be asking me?” She paused, gave me a puzzled look, and said, “What?” I repeated what I had said and she responded, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just want to read this to you to see what you think.”
I responded by saying, “What have I told you about sending emails?” She finally got it and replied, “Dad, I don’t need to call my supervisor on the phone about this. It’s okay for me to send an email to let her know about the scheduling problem.” I raised my voice a little and became animated: “How many times have I told you that email and texting are the worst forms of communication that there are? Now be honest with me. Did it even cross your mind that you should call your supervisor on the telephone instead of sending an email to her?”
After admitting that she had briefly considered calling her supervisor, my daughter repeated that it was acceptable for her to send an email because that’s what “everybody does now.” I then launched into the lecture that I’ve repeatedly given to my daughters for the past two or three years:
Studies have shown that only 20 percent of communication is the words you use. That means the other 80 percent is the tone and volume of a person’s voice, the inflection used when speaking the words, the expression on the person’s face when communicating, and the accompanying body language of the person. The highest and best form of communication is face-to-face. The second highest form of communication is over the telephone…. At a minimum, you need to call your supervisor and tell her about the mistake. That’s the only way you’ll know if she gets upset about the situation. If you call her, you’ll at least be able to hear her reaction and respond to any questions she may have. When you call her, if she’s not available, then you can leave a voice mail message. After that, you can follow up with an email telling her that you left a message for her about your schedule.
As soon as I finished my standard lecture, my daughter said, “Dad, I really don’t want to talk to her about it. Can’t I just send the email?” I responded by delivering another one of my standard lectures: “No, you’re an adult now. I know you don’t like situations where there may be conflict, but you have to be willing to engage in conflict when necessary. You need to have the courage to handle this the correct way.”
She ended up making the phone call, leaving a voice mail message, and then following up with an email. The next day when I asked her how everything went, she said she talked to her supervisor and “everything went great.” Unfortunately, one week after the supervisor incident, I found out that my daughter had inadvertently missed one of her classes and then sent her teacher an email explaining why she missed the class. Sigh.
Twenty years ago my daughter would have had no other choice but to call her supervisor and teacher on the telephone, or go see them in person. Now, with this “great” technology at her fingertips, when dealing with other people, she (along with everyone else) can take the path of least resistance and use the lowest and most ineffective form of communication that is available.
And we wonder why no one understands us.
How does what I’m saying here apply to our Catholic faith? While we should communicate with our Lord as often as possible, we should make every effort to work into our schedule the highest form of communication that is available to us, which is frequent (daily if possible) Mass and Holy Communion. We should also utilize the second highest form, which is by speaking with Him “face-to-face” in the adoration chapel where He is present in the Eucharist.
But I suppose if there were a way to communicate with our Lord via email, most Catholics would automatically default to that form of communication rather than the higher forms of communication I just mentioned. Sigh.