Christian Body Language

Light of truth

Rose Mary

It is by his actions that a person is put right with God and not by his faith alone (James 2:24).

Seven year old Arun had just entered the Church for Holy Mass along with his family. His grandmother selected a bench, and, as he followed her, he noticed there was no fan directly above the row and momentarily halted there. The family members behind him immediately caught on and backed out to find a more comfortable position. Arun was caught in a dilemma. Should he join the rest (as he badly wanted to do) or should he keep his grandmother company. He hesitated a moment before making his final decision— he stayed by his grandmother. The gesture spoke louder than a hundred words and his grandmother acknowledged his action with a loving smile.

Communication experts have often emphasized the importance of body language in conveying thoughts, feelings and emotions to others. In fact, they say that only seven percent of communication happens with words. We can then imagine the potential of our everyday gestures, facial expressions and voice modulation in motivating others and creating pockets of happiness or vice versa as the case may be.

Whenever we are irritated or angry, we find that our voice rises to a high pitch as we vent our anger without really reflecting on the reaction of the person at the receiving end. All of us have been victim to high-pitched accusations at some time or other in our lives. A poor report card from school, a badly prepared dish, misplaced official documents—these are some of the usual instances where the person responsible can rarely escape a dressing down in the sharpest tones. It usually leaves the person dejected and miserable and quite unmotivated to do better in future.

However, there are some who have mastered the art of consciously using body language or para language to spread joy and enthusiasm among those they associate with. My colleague Professor Thomas makes sure that his daily morning greeting ‘Good morning’ is accompanied with a congenial smile and a twinkling eye contact that makes the other feel very special, whether it is the sweeper in the balcony or the students in his class. Sister Anne has mastered the art of using sentence stress in ordinary everyday conversations to motivate her listeners to feel good about themselves. To quote a simple instance, she once came by with a project she wanted me to do. “If you take it up, I’m sure it will be done well.” The gentle stress on ‘you’ made me feel confident of myself and enthusiastic to take it up. More importantly, she taught me an important lesson in motivating others consciously through the paralanguage we choose.

It is perhaps hardest to control and educate our natural, negative reactions to stressful situations. When dealing with teenage children, or people who are deliberately offensive, it requires a great deal of will power to fight down angry words and deal objectively with people. A living lesson in conscious control can be taken from instances in the life of Christ recorded in the Gospels. Jesus seldom used an accusative tone when talking to sinners. After her encounter with Jesus at the well, the Samaritan woman was overwhelmed that Jesus knew so much about her. Even as He revealed the sordid story of her illegitimate interludes, there was nothing in His tone that suggested any revulsion for her way of life. Instead, He offered her living water which would quench her parched soul and never let her thirst for the pleasures of the material world again. The Last Supper and the subsequent trial and crucifixion is an intensive learning experience in terms of Christian action. Judas shared the Last Supper with Jesus and even as He urged Judas not to delay the inevitable betrayal, nothing in His tone or demeanour to Judas aroused any suspicion among the apostles who were paying close attention to Him. Perhaps the most powerful non verbal statement of Christianity was etched in the Lord’s deliberate gesture of rising from the table during the Last Supper, taking off His outer garment and tying a towel to His waist. He then proceeded to wash His disciple’s feet. Within this act lies embedded the crux of Christian philosophy and way of life. It lives on as an immortal symbol of loving service to others.

It may be worthwhile to reflect on this powerful tool that enhances the impact of relationships tenfold. However, we must be warned that its effects could be equally detrimental if used to convey negative attitudes. Whether at home or at the workplace, our body language will define our personality and our influence in the environment we live in.

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