Can You Hear Me Now?

I’m sure you’ve seen the Verizon commercials with the bespectacled geek who asks that now immortal five-word question: “Can you hear me now?” The point of Verizon’s commercials is that it has a superior wireless communication system, which may or may not be true. (As a Verizon subscriber, I’m generally impressed.) But for me, the question is what’s really important.
Last year, my dad called me on his cell phone. That in and of itself is not an unusual occurrence. What was unusual was his location and the clarity of his call. He was on Turkey’s Mediterranean shore, boarding a boat that would take him to the Isle of Patmos, where John wrote Revelation. Although thousands of miles away, I could hear him clear as a bell.
In John’s day, Verizon didn’t have a superior wireless communication system. Not here, and definitely not in Turkey. In fact, no one did. Instead of land lines, satellites, cell phones, emails, or instant messages and text messages, people relied on messengers to communicate across distances. The clarity of the message depended on the quality of the messenger.
One thousand years before John, the Book of Proverbs offered advice about the quality of the messenger. For one thing, it advised you not to send a lazy man to deliver a message:
As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes,
so is a sluggard to those who send him (10:26).
Here’s another warning:
Like cutting off one’s feet or drinking violence
is the sending of a message by the hand of a fool (26:6).
In any communication act, there is the message itself and the medium by which it is communicated. According to these two proverbs, a bad medium (the messenger) can destroy an otherwise good and important message.
Several proverbs point out the blessing that a good messenger brings:
A wicked messenger falls into trouble,
but a trustworthy envoy brings healing (13:17).
Like the coolness of snow at harvest time
is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him;
he refreshes the spirit of his masters (25:13).
Like cold water to a weary soul
is good news from a distant land (25:25).
Where a bad messenger irritates, a good messenger refreshes. A bad messenger breaks; a good messenger heals.
Modern people such as us rarely use go-betweens as ancient people did. We can communicate directly with another person via a wide variety of technologies (phone, internet, etc.). But the lesson is still the same: The medium is as important as the message. Or, to put it another way: How you say it is as important as what you say.
That Verizon geek travels the country asking, “Can you hear me now?” Unfortunately, many of us choose to communicate personal information via impersonal technology, and we end up taking all the emotion out of communication. Effective interpersonal communication keeps the “you” and “me” in focus at all times. It’s impossible to be a modern person and not use technology. But a wise communicator keeps it personal.

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