Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Secondary Messages


Recently I had one of those awakening moments—you know, a moment when you suddenly realize that not everyone sees life like you do. You’d think that by my age I’d have exhausted those moments, but the other day after teaching a student came up to me and said, “But the real meaning in that verse is. . .” as if there could be only one meaning. As he spoke to me I realized that he really thought that the statement made by Nephi could ONLY have one meaning.

For years I’ve been obsessed with looking at what I call secondary meanings. To my way of thinking everything in life has multiple meanings, especially the things we say. When a mother says to her child, “Put on your gloves. It’s cold outside” the first meaning is obvious. It’s a simple command. But the secondary message can be one of many things. Hopefully it is “She loves me enough to care about whether I am warm or not.” However, past experience or tone of voice can change that secondary message. Maybe the child perceives the secondary message to be, “She just wants everyone else to think she’s a good mother.” Or, “She spent all that money on gloves and she just doesn’t want it wasted.” Or, “She doesn’t think I can take care of myself. She doesn’t trust me.”

Understanding that what we read and what we say can have multiple meanings changes how we interact with the world. First, when someone reads a verse of scripture and gets something out of it that we didn’t we don’t need to dismiss it as “wrong.” Every verse in scripture can teach us many things. Second, when we interact with others we need to stop and think about the secondary messages that could be attached to what we are saying or doing. When a child is struggling to cut out a paper doll and you suddenly say, “Here, let me help you,” your intentions may be very loving, but the secondary message may be “You are incompetent.”

This isn’t a principle that only applies with children. Any communication with spouses, friends, coworkers, or family carries secondary messages with it. If we learn to look for the possible secondary messages when dealing with others, we can make our communication more effective. And when reading scripture? By looking for secondary messages, we learn more. And when we are the recipient of a message? We should realize that the secondary message we are attributing to the person may be true, but then again, it may not!

6 comments:

Wendi said...

Thanks for sharing what you've learned. This is a good life lesson. Everyone certainly comes with different ideas and perspectives. I try to assume that everyone is just doing the best they can and give them the benefit of the doubt when I'm unsure of a meaning. Usually that works out well for me. :)

5L's said...

i'm so glad i found your blog through a friend. i've only read a few posts and it is such good advice and things i needed to hear. thanks for taking the time to share! :)

Sherrie Mills Johnson said...

Wendi, Good way to approach life! Assume the best!!!!

Sherrie Mills Johnson said...

5L's, Welcome. I'm glad you like the Good News! Thanks for joining us and for leaving a comment!

dani said...

This is really connected to 'beliefs' also! A secondary message may be received by someone that is based upon their beliefs about themselves, the other person, etc...that was not intended by the sender. I think it is really good to be aware of this! We can't control what another receives, but we can continue in our efforts to be Christlike. And we can always examine messages we are receiving for damaging beliefs on our part.

Sherrie Mills Johnson said...

Dani, So true. It works both ways!