By Ian Anderson
I earn my living trying to teach high school students how to use language. This includes lessons on grammar and mechanics, but mainly my message is this: they must know how to communicate well.
In other words, if they can use English effectively, they will be better for it in their professional and personal lives.
This is especially true, I tell them, with regard to what they meant to say or write and what they actually said or wrote.
Often we think we’ve been clear — it’s in black and white in our own heads, after all — when what we’ve actually communicated is something different. Tone is a whole other matter and complicates things further. And if these things are true about the words we use in everyday language, that they can communicate in ways we don’t intend, what about love languages?
Every so often, I’m reminded that I need a refresher course in foreign language: how to speak love to my wife.
English may be our first language, but we’re from vastly different lands when it comes to communicating love. We’ve been married over a decade, so it might be easy to assume that I’m skilled in getting to her heart. Alas, I’m a slow learner, and I need constant teaching.
Words are important to me, and I receive love in the form of encouragement — or at least words are the main way — and my wife likes the occasional compliment, too. However, words are not what sink down and stay with her; she hears love most loudly in a different way.
Of course, as in any misunderstanding, the difficulty is that I can’t wrap my mind around her perspective. Because love has to do with losing my appetite for myself, indeed, with placing myself behind my wife, I have to realize that speaking my own love language communicates a weak message to her. Sometimes, the message I intend is not heard, and the most painful part is that I think I’ve given love when I have not.
I’m still better at speaking my own language. I’m just like my students, who, upon writing a sentence they’re sure is clear, continue to argue they’ve presented content that simply isn’t there.
Intention isn’t enough.
Clarity is only valuable when it’s universal, not just in my own mind.
The lesson I need this February is the lesson of diversity of language — that my wife is different, and that I must relearn how to best love her. I must unravel first myself, and then widen my narrow concept of communicating.
Perhaps each time I have to correct a student’s paper I’ll remember: it’s not just in grammar we need practice. Love’s languages are also many, and they’re worth understanding and refining.
Ian Anderson is a teacher, a husband, and a dad. He lives with his family in Central Kansas. Occasionally, he tweets here: @ian_writes.