Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tone deaf

I started re-reading C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" this week because I need a reminder of the subtle ways we, Christians, can tear each other apart, almost without knowing it.

I've been thinking heavily about this passage lately:

In civilised life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face. To keep this game up you ... must see to it that each ... has a sort of double standard. Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother's utterances with the fullest and most oversensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention.

Sometimes I forget how easily a tone can change a conversation, and I wonder if the way I say something often makes it difficult for the other person to actually hear what I'm saying. And vice versa.

One afternoon this week, I walked into the house with an armload of groceries. Everyone else in the house was napping. Until I walked in. The first words out of my husband's mouth were "I need to teach you how to enter a house." His tone wasn't cruel, but I sensed some annoyance, because the door slammed behind me and everyone woke up. My reaction was less than cordial and for a few minutes, until I realized how childish I was being, I sulked around the house and began compiling my mental list of grievances against my husband. All because of how I interpreted his tone. All he was really saying was that I could have entered the house more quietly, and he was willing to demonstrate. I blew it out of proportion.

Maybe this is why Scripture tells us: Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6)

And: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

I'm hoping to be a better listener, tuning out a person's tone to get to the heart of what they're saying. I'm not sure it's easy, but I'm willing to try.


  1. This is an interesting idea to me--I'll have to think more about it.

    Lately I've been thinking that a person's tone might be MORE important than what they are saying...but that I don't have to take it as an attack on me. I try to decode their words plus their tone to get to the bottom of what is actually going on in their heads.

    Like if Shawn would've said that to me, I(ideally) would've thought about it for a minute so that I didn't say anything rude in response and observed, "You're annoyed that I woke everyone up by slamming the door." If he agrees, I would probably tell him my side of the story--like the door slammed before I could catch it, or I didn't realize everyone was sleeping, or I just forgot because I was thinking about something else & apologize.

    Stonesifers are really emotional, though (apparently)--and it's taken us a long time to figure out a way to deal with conflict that sorta works for us. Shawn used to always disregard my tone and only listen to my words, and it would drive me nuts. He wasn't "getting" what i was trying to tell him at all. Sometimes I just need him to know that I'm upset. Like in some weird way--if Shawn and I (and the kids, actually) don't acknowledge each others feelings first thing we can't get past the emotions/tone to actually solve the problem. It doesn't always work perfectly--i still sometimes respond rudely or emotionally when i feel like i'm being attacked or when i feel like someone is using a rude tone or whatever. But I'm trying harder to not make it about me and how I've been offended, & I try to figure out what made that person say something in such a hurtful way.

    Anyway--that's how we try to put "A gentle answer turns away wrath" into practice.

    I think it is so neat and amazing how we all think differently and deal with conflict differently. Thank you so much for sharing! I don't very often get to hear what goes on in other people's heads when they are trying to deal with day to day conflicts and it's really enlightening! seriously! I love reading your blogs--and i think it's neat that we can have two different ways to ideally handle a situation, yet still have the same goal--to treat the other person with respect, and to really hear what they are trying to say instead of getting offended.

    love you!

  2. but--i over think everything, and i am up way too late, so i'm not sure how much sense i actually made. lol!


  3. Made total sense! :) Thanks for sharing another view of tone and meaning!