Demonstration is the True Measure of Communication


Map of the Republic of the Congo.

Map of the Republic of the Congo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone with the ability to stitch words together into coherent sentences could claim to be able to play Rachmaninoff’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” on a classical guitar, but we all know claims are not proof positive. We might have a certain trust relationship with the speaker and infer that what is being said reflects a genuine capability, but real evidence emerges from a demonstration that agrees with a claim.

In 2010, Nicholas D. Kristof wrote an op-ed in the NY Times about poverty. In it he identified a particular family in the Congo Republic where the father spent more money on alcohol, cell phones, tobacco and the like in a month than it would have cost to get mosquito nets for his children despite the fact that he two of his daughters had already died from malaria. In fact his priorities were putting his family home in jeopardy as well. At the same time these behaviors clearly communicated his real values, he had other, superficial reasoning to explain his actions. When asked, he said that he couldn’t afford mosquito nets because he didn’t have enough money.[1]

Before we get too worked up in a puffy chested self-righteous flit, most of us would have to own the fact that we too are occupied with behaviors aligned around such nonsense as building social status, obtaining optional and frivolous possessions, tending lawns, or working more hours to be on the grid of monthly payments for various gadgets. At the same time we do these things, family members and the larger community, including these children, suffer from various forms of relational squalor outside our view, or if we use demonstrated behaviors as the axiom of real communication, outside our value system. In other words; there’s no avoiding the fact that we communicate what is important and unimportant by what we do and what we do not do.

As humans we can and do easily slip into a visual shell game where we feverishly pitch convenient platitudes to the forefront of our lives. We adorn them with garish clown attributes to call attention to their importance at the same time we diminish and distance these other things that would clarify an honest communication of our real values. While this Congolese father missed his own communication of values toward his family made through his behaviors, he was by no means unique. This jiggling tinsel of words we dangle in front of ourselves seems to be an effective distractor from reality.

One of the most important things we can do to forge an intentional life is to recognize what we say is delivered through our behaviors, not our words. If our words agree with our behaviors then we speak the truth, if not, then we are mistaken or lying. If we do not see the language of behaviors as the real means by which we communicate our values, then we’re missing ourselves. It is only from a behavioral demonstration lens that we can see our true selves and ferret out any broken connections between our words and deeds. Demonstration is the true measure of communication.


[1] Nicholas D. Kristof New York Times article: “Moonshine or the Kids?” May 22, 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/opinion/23kristof.html?_r=0

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4 responses to “Demonstration is the True Measure of Communication

  1. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    Recognise what we say delivered through our behaviours – this bit really, really stuck with me.

    Re the mosquito nets ESPECIALLY as daughters had died from malaria – yes, I WAS ready to get all huffy chested. It is terrible, atrocious.

    Really excellent post this one: love it.

    • Thank you. I think if we were to to be able to trace the causes that led Mr. Obamza (the Congolese man) to exist in that kind of world where he was compelled to neglect his parental responsibilities and chase pleasures we would certainly find that the blame runs through him, not to him. Tracing blame back to its source it probably not a linear affair but a whole context of things including culture family chance and environmental circumstance. If we were able it would probably be some cruel natural event that echoes through his families cultural lines mixed with the cultural effects of climate change built on natural patterns or some overuse of a particular area causing famines etc. and the corresponding echoes of fear driven behavior that come out as neglect. The point is, I don’t think we’re qualified to blame and/or punish, but when we do it takes energy away from what we need to move forward and adds nothing but negative value to the circumstance. Punishing people with negative self images actually reinforces their false notion of their value and gives them a feeding ground to get that negative image reinforced. This is why certain populations have high recurrences of repeat offenders for instance.

      The issue on earth is not one of information. It is that we are short sighted. We know if we treated each other better we would have a better experience of life. The tasks associated with establishing that need to be cultivated over time to take root in our global psyche and successive cycles of crime and punishment are frankly a detriment to the process even though they are culturally viewed as a deterrent to bad behavior. We all need to stand up and be a cooperative mutually nourishing community of life. Our cells and organs certainly tell us that that is the way biology works best. It is no different on larger community scales.

      Thanks for the thoughts. I am really glad you get something valuable out of this. I do try hard to make it useful.

  2. Excellent message & well-written!

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