April 2015

I have a dear friend who teaches in an elementary school by day and an adult education school by night. In both instances she is teaching English as a second language. We were recently in conversation about the practicalities of transcription in linguistics. That is, not studying the theory of, but actually doing the work of converting human speech into written text. Listening, writing what you are hearing, and listening even more. 

I remembered that conversation and the wisdom of transcription after our most recent annual meeting. Though my spoken words weren't being transcribed, they were being reflected back to me verbally. Advice given for phonetic transcription is to listen to yourself out loud before deciding on pronunciation. Members of our Congregation were reflecting back some of my words amidst a hard conversation.

When the words left my lips I was confident they were the words I wanted to use and the words that would be most helpful. That was until a member said them back to me or, in the case of transcription, said them out loud and I discovered how they sounded. I think the member even shared how these words were being perceived. For example, in explaining a decision I had made I said that I made the decision to protect and keep safe the Congregation. I hadn't heard how those words were perceived in the moment, but am clear today how they were perceived as I listened to them.

When speaking of someone we all love it isn't a good idea to imply that they are unsafe or harmful. Perhaps that is how I perceive that person's behaviors, but that's not what I discovered I said when I listened. I embarrassingly implied I thought that of the person whom I truly care for just as our members. I screwed up.

There I was, hearing my words out loud as if for the first time, and having been given the opportunity to check them. 


If we are to move from our understanding of our words to the understanding of how others are receiving and perceiving our words, we are required to listen.  Though I wouldn't have changed the ideas behind my words, I realized the words I was using weren't helpful. Thank you to the member willing to help me understand this.

I've lived steeped in vulnerability for the past few weeks. Not a place to vacation, but day trips have served me well. I shared emotionality with the Congregation recently. I fought back tears while sharing from the pulpit words of meditation that are very meaningful to me and were apropos given some challenges in our Congregational life. I felt emotional because I was deeply listening to the words and was moved.

Let us truly listen and be willing to stand in the vulnerable and emotional places. Let us remember we are not above hearing our words for the first time and realizing when they've taken on unintended power. Let us recognize that our imperfection becomes beautiful when we learn from one another and accept that we too are teachers of a second language. The language of vulnerability, humility, truth, apology, and strength in weakness.

Grateful to each of you, Rev. CJ


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