When Adam and Eve fell from grace, humanity lost its ability to love perfectly. Consequently, our ability to communicate to each other suffered as well. In today’s world we judge a person by the clothes they wear and unless we spend time with them, it is very hard to love them. We’ll never return to perfection in this earthly life BUT we can still aim for ideal communication by learning from when humanity was perfect.
Where do we look?
The way you dress silently shouts out who you are – and how you want people to see you. Clothing can tell us quite a bit about what that individual believes about religion, status, politics and culture. In Part 2 of the series I mentioned how clothing is a reaction by Adam and Eve to protect each other from objectifying each other’s bodies. These days the function of clothing has become the basis by which we make our first impressions of other people. While making a first impression based on appearance along isn’t inherently wrong we all, myself included, start to form a judgement about that person – especially if we don’t like how the other person looks. What’s more when we don’t like a person we, subconsciously or consciously, create a NEGATIVE narrative about that person to provide a reason as to WHY we don’t like them.
I am sad to admit that I am very guilty of doing this. For example, whenever I used to see people wearing very expensive brand-name clothing I would judge them as being pretentious, spoiled and vain. Conversely, when I saw a homeless person I would stereotype them as being some sort of addict to alcohol or drugs and that they brought their misfortune upon themselves. By making a snap judgement I (wrongly) gave myself a reason as to why they didn’t DESERVE to my kindness, generosity and love.
Unfortunately, the majority of us (especially those of us in First World countries) have been conditioned to create negative first impressions of people we don’t know. But how did this happen? In today’s world where there are so many dangers being reported on the media, our parents and teachers train us to be wary of others for the sake of safety. As children we understood reasoned this behaviour as “my parents said so.” Furthermore, our negative thinking is supplemented by the stereotyping of people we see on TV and on the Internet. Finally, we may have been hurt by an individual or a group of people and it may be that anyone who resembles our attackers in appearance or mannerisms is on our mental ‘black list’.
Body and Spirit
We’ve got to look past the clothes. No that doesn’t mean you have to imagine what everyone you meet looks like naked. It does mean that people are MUCH MORE than their appearance and their fashion choices. I mentioned earlier that I judged people negatively based on whether they looked rich or poor. Yet I also have known people in both economic standings that are extremely nice and nothing like I imagined. The key is KNOWING a person.
Recently in my community, a young mother passed away during a surgery. I did not know her but when I heard the news I felt sad because of what I imagined the pain to be like for the grieving husband and their children. But I had friends who wept for this woman and were truly shaken by her death, yet I could not share in their sadness. Why? The difference was that those heartbroken friends knew that woman; they talked with her, laughed with her and spent time with her.
It is PHENOMENAL how a relationship changes between strangers after one or two conversations. In that experience of exchanging thoughts two people create an unseen bond of unity. One of my favourite books is ‘Three to Get Married’ by the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Early on in the book he has this to say on love:
All love craves unity…Flesh, though a means to unity when united to a soul, is in itself an obstacle, because matter is impenetrable. A block of marble cannot be made one with another block without losing the identity of either. But the spiritual is a bond of unity. Two persons learn poetry without one depriving the other of knowledge; poetry this becomes the bond of unity. Matter is the basis of division; spirit the root of unity.
(Three to Get Married, pg. 27)
In essence, to truly share a connection with a person you must attempt to know them spritually. You CANNOT know somebody simply through the body. Take ‘casual sex’ for example. Millions of people engage in one of the most intimate and sacred acts of unity between two people and yet they hardly know anything about the other PERSON. It is ironic that even the most unifying of bodily actions can tell you as much about a person as a high five.
Most importantly, to know someone is a two-way street. You can read about what a person said or watch what a person does and still not know them. It is only when two people SHARE themselves mutually through time and conversation that they begin the process to know each other. A bond is a connection that two people have made between each other – not just imagined by one person. It takes work.
Naked Communication is about Love
Whether it’s with a colleague, friend, spouse or child, any relationship needs effort. While we may not be able to meet everyone in the world, we are called to love everyone that with whom we come into contact – and that is easier said than done. “Love is primarily in the will” says Archbishop Fulton Sheen. It is a willingness to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ everyday. Contrary to the false notion that love is primarily a feeling, John Mayer sings,
Love is a Verb
It ain’t a thing
It’s not something you hold
It’s not something you scream
When you show me love
I don’t need your words
Yeah Love ain’t a thing
Love is a Verb
It is ACTION. As I write these words I’m humbled by my own failings to act lovingly to the people whom I say I love. These actions need not be grand gestures. To call someone when you know they may need the support, or to look past the wrongs that have been done to you and to attempt reconciliation – that’s love. It takes you setting aside time to carry out these actions that make love real. And if the cost of your time wasn’t enough, showing love comes with two risks: your freedom and the possibility of being hurt.
St. John Paul II said it best in ‘Love and Relationships’:
Love consists of a commitment which limits one’s freedom – it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one’s freedom on behalf of another.
As you start to get to know the other person, you are essentially saying, “I am willingly giving up my time to be here to get to know you better.” The great irony of freedom is that we are truly free when we willingly give to others. In the perfect world that Adam and Eve briefly lived in, that freedom to love was perfectly reciprocated. But not so in our insecure and twisted world. Love now comes at the risk of not getting back what you give and possibly getting hurt because of choosing to give yourself. People can choose to reject the love you present by ignoring you, making fun of you or even manipulating you. The hurt that love brings also comes in the form of loss. A fallout between friends. A divorce between spouses. And the most final loss, death. Every person who you choose to love comes with all of these risks – so why put yourself through all that pain and heartache?
Because to Fully Love is to be Fully Human
God made us in His image. And God by definition is Love. “God IS a relationship.” When I first heard those words from the then Bishop Robert Barron (now Archbishop), I think an explosion went off in my brain. God, by His very nature, IS a relationship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What’s more when God the Son entered the world as a human being as Jesus Christ, He demonstrated what it meant to be human – and He paid for it with His life.
Love is about FULLY giving yourself in pursuit of seeking the good in another person’s life. You can’t fully love someone if you parcel out your love either. I am guilty of ‘loving’ others just until it gets ‘dangerous’ when it comes to getting hurt. But in doing that I am ‘clothing’ my communication to protect my own insecurities and flaws. I’m becoming less human. Your relationships are not going to get better with half-truths and shallow emotions. My life is not going to be better because I purposely avoid the chance of getting hurt. Naked Communication is exposing our vulnerability to others through our honesty with love. It’s not an easy road to take but it will get us closer to our truest selves.