Crisis in Communication

Toy robots using a tin can communicator

Communication is very important but can at times be catastrophic. What we say is not always what others hear, and what they hear is not always what we say. Here’s a story that effectively illustrates this issue. 

The Colonel issued the following directive to his officers: “Tomorrow evening at approximately 2000 hours Halley’s comet will be visible in this area, an event which occurs only once every 75 years. Have the men fall out in the battalion area in fatigues and I will explain this rare phenomenon to them. In case of rain, we will not be able to see anything, so assemble the men in the theater and I will show them films of it.” 

This directive was passed on through the Chain of Command in a strange and incorrect way. 

Executive officer to company commander: “By order of the colonel. Tomorrow at 2000 hours, Halley’s comet will appear above the battalion area. If it rains, fall the men out in fatigues, then march to the theater where this rare phenomenon will take place, something which occurs only once every 75 years.” 

Company commander to lieutenant: “By order of the colonel in fatigues at 2000 hours tomorrow evening, the phenomenal Halley’s comet will appear in the theater. In case of rain in the battalion area, the colonel will give another order, something which occurs once every 75 years.” 

Lieutenant to sergeant: “Tomorrow at 2000 hours, the colonel will appear in the theater with Halley’s comet, something which happens every 75 years. If it rains, the colonel will order the comet into the battalion area.” 

Sergeant to squad: “When it rains tomorrow at 2000 hours, the phenomenal 75 year old general Halley, accompanied by the colonel, will drive his comet through the battalion area theater in fatigues.” 

It reminds me of Norman Rockwell’s painting with numerous rows of people speaking into each others’ ear, passing along what was said by the first person in the chain. When the message got back to the one who had initiated it, there was no resemblance to the original saying. Too often that happens. Transferring thoughts can lead to great misunderstanding. 

This happens not only personally but in the conveyance of things by those in leadership positions. Sometimes even the initial directive may be misleading and grows worse at each level of communication. We all know too many examples of this. Can we continue to say one thing and do another? Can we lie either intentionally or accidentally and believe we can get away with it? Remember the pride which was felt when it was said, “He (or she) was a man of his word.”? Those who stand on what they say and mean it is true of an increasing smaller number of persons. When we say what we don’t mean and we don’t mean what we say, our culture cannot long survive such a shaky standard. 

In His great Sermon On The Mount, Jesus declared, “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” 

Psalms 19:14 is a fabulous guide for us: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” 

We should avoid communication chaos everywhere we can! Let’s get the message straight! Let’s communicate it correctly! Let’s start now! 

Till next time, Don Johnson, Kirby Pines Chaplain