I was recently reading a book on advertising in which the author noted that words do not have meaning until we invest them with meaning. That is, words do not have meaning in themselves, but are just a shell that the hearer fills with meaning.
This idea immediately intrigued me for a couple reasons. First, because it explains why sometimes we say things and other people don’t know where we are coming from. Try describing New York City skyscrapers to people in New Guinea who have never seen a two story hut. And what does love look like to people who today for whom the word is only a sex act.
We say a word, and people hear something different than what we mean. The word Conservative is highly loaded these days. For some it means “family values” whereas for others it means narrow-minded bigots who (if they had their way) would become jack-booted, freedom-stealing fascists. To some the word Liberal means compassionate people who care for the less fortunate, and to others the word means anti-American, anti-business, tree-hugging communist or idealistic airhead.
The point is, we say a word, and it is invested with lots of different meanings by the hearer. Words are like triggers that awaken meanings in the mind.
Take the word God, for example. For many people of faith this is far more than a word. It is the Almighty Creator, Yahweh, the high and holy one, awesome in power, who humbled Himself to die in shame to conquer death and make a way for us to be part of His great family, for eternity. But if you say “God” in some circles, it means “a concept by which weak people comfort themselves.”
How are we to communicate in this world where words have become so divested of meaning? Think about it. What do you do when words no longer have any meaning? How do we reach people? How do we help meet needs or make a difference if we can’t use words?
One way we can be understood is by our behavior. Our lives are a book read by all. Our deeds communicate, even when words fail. And if we are kind, friendly, open-armed, show interest when others speak, it will say things that are important.
On this topic, the problem of communication, much more could be said. But rather than digress, let's save those discussions for another time.