It may be the most idealistic definition of communication I’ve ever seen: “With sincere intent and real imagination,” writes David Murray, “all human beings can understand one another.”
Murray is the editor of Vital Speeches of the Day. He’s the force behind the Professional Speechwriters Association. He leads the Executive Communications Council. He blogs, usually daily, at Writing Boots. He’s spent more than three decades in the communications business; I first met him when he was editor of Speechwriter’s Newsletter, back in the dark ages before social media, web sites, smart phonies, Amazon, and Google.
He’s also politically blue. But he’s an unusual blue, one who believes that the politically red might actually be worth talking with. And thus his new book, An Effort to Understand: Hearing One Another (and Ourselves) in a Nation Cracked in Half. It’s an optimistic book, reflecting the optimism and general good humor of its author. It’s a book about communications, comprised of short chapters ranging across the breadth of contemporary life – family, work, politics, change, culture, language, environment, leadership, friendship, and more.
What links all of these things is the idea of communication. Life works because communication works. When communication doesn’t work, things unravel. Marriages fail. Friends stop speaking to each other. People suspect each of other of the most nefarious motives, simply because of what candidate they might for. Or, as Murray might say, communications fails when we stop acting like adults.
It’s not about civility, he says; civility is not communication. Preaching to the choir and remaining safely inside our political bubbles isn’t communication, either. It’s not screaming names and labels at people to force people to back down and admit we’re right and they’re wrong.
Instead, communication is about understanding. We can have profound and fundamental disagreements about any subject or issue; the United States was founded in the context of profound and fundamental disagreements about government, people, and political philosophy, disagreements which still shape the nation today. But if we’re to hold this American experiment together, we have to make a sincere, sustained, and good-faith effort to understand each other.
No one said it’s easy, least of all Murray. Coming from the moderately conservative (red) side of the political spectrum, I took him at his word, and I read his book to understand. I knew his politics; I knew we disagreed on a number of very basic things. But I also knew he would have something worthwhile to say, and something I could learn, because Murray is first a communicator. He’s not a political partisan seeking to convert me or any other reader to his way of political thinking. He’s a communicator seeking to understand others and himself, only asking for a similar understanding in return.
The 60 short essays of An Effort to Understand will make you laugh. They will make you think. Most importantly, they will make you look beyond the red and blue labels we use to objectify and categorize people. They will help you understand.
This may be the best book on communication I’ve ever read.