Real Communication

On Thursday afternoon, the media reported the shocking suicide of Tom Schweich. Mr. Schweich was a widely admired politician, currently holding the position of State Auditor in Missouri. He had also announced in January that he would be a candidate for Governor in the November 2016 election.

While we may never know for sure what triggered the tragic and selfish act of this hardworking, bright, caring and talented public servant, there is evidence to indicate that the pressures of the campaign, especially rumors and false innuendos, played a role. In fact, the sensitivity that made Mr. Schweich an effective state office holder may have played a part in him overreacting to criticism as he began his run for governor.

Within hours of hearing about Mr. Schweich’s death, my wife shared that a friend had learned of the passing of her father last Thursday evening. As news of our friend’s loss became known, she shared that she was not close to her father and that she had regrets not having seen him recently.

We live in an age of instant communication and information availability. Technology allows us to maintain contact with a wide variety of people with a few taps on our smartphone or, almost barbarically, hitting a few keys on a computer keyboard. The available communication options are huge and they become greater every day. Voicemail, email, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and many more communication options are available, and more are being invented and marketed constantly.

Many of these tools are a great benefit to our ability to remain in contact with people that we know and love. These tools can help us find a job, reconnect with old friends, coordinate our activities, and provide an effective means of maintaining contact with a wide variety of people in our lives.

These tools, especially voicemail, texting and email, are especially effective at allowing us to productively coordinate meetings and activities with people in our family, the workplace and in school. For example, finding out school is canceled now is as simple as receiving a text. It no longer requires you to get up early, turn on the TV, and try to remember which station announces your school’s closing.

In addition, communication tools such as Twitter and the internet enable us to stay more informed, at least on a surface level, about what is going on. For example, it was through reading newspaper headlines from an app on my phone that I learned of Tom Schweich’s death. Then, over the next few days, I read numerous stories, both on the internet and in the newspaper, about the tragedy.

Yet, I cannot help but wonder if Tom’s death could have been avoided. What if he and the people he suspected of spreading rumors had simply sat down for a cup of coffee and discussed their differences? Perhaps, what became a life threatening rumor would have been found to be a simple misunderstanding or an incorrect replaying of a quotation.

This brings me to the point of this article. There is no doubt about the incredible power of the many modern ways to communicate and pass information. But these methodologies are no substitute for sitting down face-to-face and talking to someone you love or someone you have differences with.

I have never heard someone who has recently lost a loved one say that they wish they could have texted one more time with their loved one. But many times, including in my own life, I wish that I could have had one more personal meeting with a deceased parent or friend.

Emails, texts, Facebook posts are not a substitute for meeting one-on-one, face-to-face, with friends, family members and other people we know and love. Digital communication excels in allowing us to easily keep in touch. It also is an excellent tool to coordinate getting together with people. But it is not real communication.

Real communication is a contact sport. It requires making the effort to coordinate schedules so you can meet in person. It means being able to shake your business contact’s hand and look them in the eye as you negotiate. It means you can give an old friend a hug as you sit down to reminisce about old times. Or you can look into to the eyes of a loved one you have grown distant from, with tears in your own eyes.

I encourage you to use digital communication for what it is good for. But don’t think of it as a substitute for meeting face-to-face with people. Whether in the marketplace, your world of friends, or with your family, real communication only occurs when you actually meet with someone. It is only in this context that you can read body language, clearly hear voice inflections, and watch facial expressions. And it is only in the physical presence of someone that you can connect your souls and build the kind of trust and friendship that will make that person an important part of your life.