I stopped counting how many times I’ve had the email etiquette conversation, both in regards to emails I’ve sent, and ones I’ve received. It’s something we’ve all experienced. So much so that we regularly chalk it up to the idea that, “something just gets lost in email conversation.” And it’s not only on email! We regularly miscommunicate and/or misinterpret conversations on social media platforms as well.
My wife informed me she was recently asked by someone who got an email from me if I was mad at them. Recalling the email conversation, my gut response was, “Dear God, NO!” I was perplexed at the reality of my failure to communicate my thoughts in a way where my heart was not communicated very well.
These kinds of email etiquette fails compel me to evaluate how we use words in all forms of communication.
Our society has lost a sense of the importance of the words we use, and how we communicate with one another. In her book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre explores the etymology of the word conversation:
“Coversation appears to have been a term that included and implied much more than it does now: to coverse was to foster community, to commune with, to dwell in a place with others.”
A statement like this has me thinking that the words we use are only part of the issue. With this understanding of the nature of conversation, it seems as though we should put equal effort into how we approach the relationship with the person with whom we’re communicating.
The Words We Use
The Proverbs have a great deal to say about the power of our words, including statements like this one from Proverbs 18:21:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
Our words have the power to tear down or build up. And with our calling as Christians, we should chose to speak life into every situation we’re in. Even conversations where correction and disagreement are involved, the goal of our word-choice should be on reconciliation and being life-giving. Trust me, I know it can be a difficult task when emotions enter sensitive conversations. But we need to be the masters over our tongues and the words we use.
It’s All About the “With”
Consider the nature of conversation as including this idea of fostering community, and communing and dwelling with one another. The conversations we have (including our email and social media conversations) aren’t about talking AT people, but about dwelling WITH them. There’s no division in there. And please note that I didn’t say there wasn’t disagreement, rather no division. Conversation is about coming together. It’s about unity. Even when we disagree, we can have grace and understanding for other’s opinions.
Peter talks about this idea on one of his letters (1 Peter 3:8):
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
This unity of mind, followed by ideas like sympathy, love, and humility points to an attitude we should have in our dealings (conversations) with one another. Putting aside pride and selfish motives should be a primary goal of every conversation. And that doesn’t mean we can’t have objectives we need to accomplish, or an opinion of our own. Instead, it does impact how we communicate our ideas to others.
So before you click send on your next email, re-read what you’re about to send. How does your choice of words speak life into the person on the other side of the conversation? How does your tone and attitude in the conversation work towards unity? Does the email foster community or difference?
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
— Jesus (John 15:12-13)