Last night, my wife and I walked through the heart of New York City. On a cool summer evening, we travelled four miles from Canal Street to Columbus Circle via Broadway. Along one of the most famous streets in the world, we passed through Soho, Union Square, the Flatiron, by the Empire State Building, through the heart of Times Square, and to the very edge of Central Park.
Along the way, the endless rows of buildings stood out to me. As we passed through the spine of the city, the buildings towered above us, jettying toward the heavens on either side of the street. It was like we were in a massive library. Each floor a shelf and each window a book. Inside each of those windows is a person, a story – a unique background, distinctive obstacles, fears, and triumphs.
As if in a movie, we all travel outside of our own books and crash into one another on the street. A story from every country on the planet, in every language on the globe, can be found roaming the streets of this city.
The thing that ties us all together is communication. We are all just one story on a Library planet. We cannot avoid interacting with the other books, believe me, I tried. Communication builds empires and crumbles them; it saves relationships and topples them to the ground. Just like Broadway, our ability to communicate with one another is the spine of this great Library of stories.
Just last week, I was in Central Park and an Indian man came up to me. He was with his large family. He asked me, in splattered English, for directions.
“Lake,” he said.
I hesitated for a moment. There are a few options in the park that word could describe. I looked around me in different directions.
“Boat,” one of his relatives said with a heavy accent.
Ah, I thought, that’s better. There is a famous spot in the park where you can rent boats. They seemed to see the recognition come over me, spoke some words to each other in their native language, and then chuckled with me good-spiritedly. I pointed them on their way.
One of the great sins of the individual is assuming that all others understand, interpret, and receive in exactly the same way. After all, I’ve never known any other way than my own. Nothing else makes much sense.
Communication takes us outside of ourselves. It is humbling. It is uniting; it brings us together like nothing else can.
My wife and I have decided to make effective communication a focus for our marriage. No matter how we feel or what is happening around us, communicating with one another makes it better, clearer, truer.
It is a complicated procedure. I don’t mean that facetiously. It really is. There is a sender and a receiver and a whole mess of medium the message has to travel through. There is feedback, which is both a last step and a whole new round of communication. It is hard work.
We’d just as soon not deal with it. The affects of this are all around us. We’d rather be passive-aggressive and make people pay for not understanding or agreeing with us, holding hostage those we love. We’d rather fight and scream about some menial thing rather than communicate the heart of what we are feeling – it is easier to fight about doing the dishes than talk through feeling dishonored. We’d rather hold on to the entitlement and pride of ‘our side’ than step into the humility required to truly share life with another.
One of the things I love about New York is how much it constantly challenges me. What will I say to the homeless man begging for money? How will I interact with the tourist asking for directions? How much of my inner struggles will I allow my community to hear? How will I react when someone spits at my feet and curses me, which happened to my wife this week.
New York is a library of stories. It is the best of humanity and the worst of it. The ugly and the beautiful. The messy, the polished, and the secret underground of the human soul.
How will I interact with it? What will I say? How will I share my story and how will I hear the story of others?
** for some tools on how to communicate effectively click here