Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Open Letter To My Grandchildren About The Importance Of Learning To Communicate Well

9 June 2013

Dear Grandchildren,  

In Yellowstone Park last summer I talked with you about being born in ignorance.  This June I want to tell you about another thing we are born without–that is the ability to speak–to express our thoughts and feelings in language.  If babies are uncomfortable they can squirm, fuss, cry, and even scream, but that is all.  When tickled they eventually learn to smile, giggle and laugh.  Parents spend a great deal of time with infants helping them begin to learn language.  For many, the first word they learn is not “Mommy” or “Daddy” but “no.”  

The important thing to understand here is that language is something we learn.  We usually learn it in our homes from our parents and our brothers and sisters.  Then our world expands to playmates and people outside the home such as at Church.  When we start school the people we communicate with expands and schools begin training us to communicate better and better.  They teach us how to read so we can understand written words, articles, books, poems, plays, emails, things in our electronic media devices, and more.  They teach us to express ourselves in writing, so we learn the alphabet and we begin to learn words (expand our vocabulary), spell, and write sentences, paragraphs, and pages.

Many young people grow to dislike learning about language–they think it is boring or difficult or both. Learning to read and write doesn't just come naturally and it is not easy–and to do it correctly is even more difficult.  If we are lazy, we develop bad habits of communicating in reading, speaking  and writing.  One author I have read recently says that generally very few people continue to grow and mature in their ability to communicate with others throughout their lives.  In other words, we quickly become content with the abilities we have to speak, read and write.  He said, “In no area of our maturing ... is arrested [discontinued, stopped, or stunted] development more common than in the area of communication.”

Not continuing to learn to communicate better and better through the methods of reading, writing and speaking will create many problems for you throughout your lives.  That is because communication is so important in every aspect of our lives.  Please consider just a few ideas about the importance of being able to communicate well.

1) Remember that language is the tool with which we think.   Words and language become the symbols of things, ideas and emotions.  Without language we cannot really think in its fullest sense.  So, if we are poor with language, our ability to think is greatly limited.  We limit our own ability to think and communicate what we think by the limitations of our knowledge and understanding of our language.

2) Communication is the process through which we are greatly influenced by others.  Through communication parents and teachers teach us.  Business people, politicians and others try to influence our thinking and how we act, what we buy, who we vote for.  Leaders want to influence us to follow, to work together, to achieve.  

Likewise, communication is the process by which we influence others.  If we are poor at writing or speaking we will have less influence.  We cannot teach others well, we cannot persuade or lead as well as we could if we could communicate better.  If you discuss this with your parents they will be able to think of other ways this principle applies in life.

One example among many is the importance of your vocabulary.  If it is poor, that is, if it is small and you don’t know the meaning of very many words then communication for you will be difficult.  You will not be able to understand many things people say or write.  Likewise, you will not be able to communicate ideas and feelings to others as adequately as you want.  You must make it a point to continue to grow in your vocabulary because it does not grow very fast once you leave school where it is emphasized.  The same is true for learning to read, write, and speak. 

3) Communication is the medium through which we get outside of ourselves and become involved with a larger community of family, friends, and associates.  We use language to express our ideas, beliefs and feelings to these groups.  Language is the method we use to share knowledge and experience.  If our use of the language, to read, write or speak is severely limited because we were satisfied with what we learned in elementary or high school, or even in college, our ability to engage with the world around us is severely limited and will likely be ineffective. 

4) Language is the most important way we express our feelings and emotions.  Studies of behavior of children and young adults show that before about the age of eight or nine, children generally express emotion through physical actions.  Teenagers and adults tend to express emotion through words.  If we do not become skilled in language our ability to express our feelings and emotions remain on a fairly immature level and will be terribly inadequate.  The lack of words at one’s command leaves many with nothing to do to express their emotions except by swearing, shouting, using cliches and slang, all of which leave us without the ability to express the uniqueness of our own personality.  By the way, anger is not the only emotion that we should think about in this discussion.  Expressing love, happiness, fear, sadness, remorse, belief, testimony, and humor are others that are stunted if we are not able to express ourselves well.   So... 

I want to encourage you to continue through your schooling especially, but also throughout your lives to improve your ability to communicate.

I hope you will learn to read well, and to learn to love reading so you can benefit from the communication of many others to you about life and whatever subjects interest you.  I hope you will learn to read widely so you can become interested in many things.  Don’t let your curiosity die–ever.

I encourage you to learn to write well.  Learn grammar, learn vocabulary–and keep learning it, so you can become ever better at expressing your thoughts, ideas, and feelings.  

I especially encourage you to learn to speak well because you will use this method to communicate with others more than any other.

I especially hope you will learn the value of communicating with confidence, precision, sensitivity, and beauty.

I love you all,

Grandpa Bachman.

Let's think together again, soon.

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