I have chosen the topic of connecting and communicating, because over the years in dealing with young people, I have found that if we don't have some method to connect to begin with, there will be no communication. The connection is the first step that has to happen. Today, as parents you are being bombarded with a lot of information about how to deal with your children. And I say to you that the first thing you have to do is connect; then you can talk. Communication, however, often does not even involve talking. There are many kinds of very powerful non-verbal communication that children and adults use.
You can see such communication between a good coach and his team: not many words, a lot of heart, and a lot of encouragement. A good coach can take kids from all cultures, all kinds of family backgrounds, and inspire them with something that makes them work as a team. When I was in high school, I played in the marching band. Our team was good, but our band was terrible. Initially, anyway, until a very inspired man from Ohio State University—and Ohio State had a really good band—came to teach at our school. That music director proceeded to make us into a miniature Ohio State University band. I don't know how he did it. We were the same kids that had been in the lousy band the year before. We became a terrific band that year, all because of one leader who inspired us and moved us.
Communication with children can happen, but you have to connect. You have to find that ingredient that makes you able to talk with your child, and listen to your child. Or, as a teacher, to talk and listen to your students.
If we don't have the connecting, and we only have the communicating we often end up with a scenario where you say that you don't understand me, and I say that I don't understand you. We talked, but it didn't connect. Nothing happened. Or worse, a lot of negative feelings took place. And so, as a parent, or as a peer, as a friend, we have to find that way to connect. And it's not going to be the same for each person.
Earlier today, Dr. Miller talked about what Buddhists would call "individual karma". He mentioned how we are a miracle before we are even born, and how each of us is different. He talked about how we are not equal; we are not the same. That is our individual karma. And somehow, in order to connect with each other, we have to find that ingredient that makes us find something in common so our behavior and our words mean something to the other person. We find this in marriage; or we don't. Fifty percent of the people in America don't. It's something you work at.
The other thing that happens is miscommunication. If there's no communication, it's usually the case that "you didn't understand me; I didn't understand you." A miscommunication is almost worse. The results are usually, "Oh but I thought you said..." "Didn't you mean...?" "Wasn't that what you said?" And then, having taken off on something that didn't quite get communicated, a lot of mistakes and misunderstandings can happen. Somehow in being the parent or the teacher or the leader—the figure that a child would relate to—you have to figure out whether or not communication happened. Is what I said what that person heard? And is what that person said what I understood? If not, then the communication is not happening. Before we can take all these wonderful principles that people have talked about today and try to relate them, we have to deal with this issue of how to connect.
Many times, what happens is when communication is faulty, or there is a misunderstanding, we have the situation where "I'm not speaking to you." It happens among friends, among parents, and among children. One child told me, "Oh, my father hasn't spoken to me for the last ten years." Her father hasn't spoken to her for the last ten years?! Since we are addressing an Asian audience, I will tell you this was an Asian-American child. Since I have lived over thirty years in an Asian community, I am probably qualified to be called an American-Asian. Disowning seems to be rather prevalent in Asian society. "I don't like who you married, so I'm not going to speak to you for the next twenty years." This is a very real occurrence.
And so a total lack of communication without any connection can result in this kind of extreme withdrawal—not speaking, breaking up friendships, or disowning family members.
Now I want to suggest that there are probably three major gaps that my experience has taught me when it comes to communicating with young people, and again in my case, specifically young Asian people here in America, but also in their own country. One of them is the generation gap. My sister is now teaching what used to be called "bone-head English," and later "remedial English," and is now called "developmental English." That is freshman college English. She has three full sections of students in Tucson, and she has been sending frantic email messages about the generation gap. She can't communicate with these young people. It's a viable thing. It's viable because we are already old fashioned, especially in this age of information. For many of you, you don't know anything about computers, especially mothers. And for almost every young person, the language and the whole state involved in getting into a computer and going into it layer upon layer and having all the virtual world appear before you is something your mother doesn't know anything about. So there is a great big communication gap there.