Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A picture alters a thousand words

I got a rather striking lesson this week on the power of images.

In an e-mail conversation with my friend Alexandra, I asked in passing, "Are you familiar with the concept of love languages?"

"No," she answered, "what are they?" ...continue reading...

I responded, "Will put an explanation on my blog after dinner...back later. -- No, I take it back. Express version now..."

Alexandra was intrigued and wound up posting my e-mail on her blog as a discussion-starter. But, being Alexandra, she added several photographs, one for each of the five languages -- and, since this is Alexandra we're talking about, her choices were unexpected and surprising despite being (once you thought about it for a moment) perfectly apt. (And I have just described what it is that sets her blog apart from any other blog I know: she thinks as much in images as in words, and every post is full of images that transform and redirect the discussion.)

Now, here's my point: I was reading my own words, on her blog. But, because of the images that she carefully interspersed with the words, what I had said sounded different even to myself! It was absolutely fascinating how she shifted the tenor of the comments and deepened the significance -- without changing a word of the e-mail. Fortunately for me, Alexandra is honest and knows me well, and she was faithful to my meaning. Indeed, she brought out emotional depths to my meaning that I hadn't necessarily realized were there but which were true to my aim. She enhanced and enriched; she did not distort.

But how easily she could have distorted! I was never so aware of how, say, a reporter can see his story distorted and altered without a word's being changed, just by the editor's choice of which photographs to juxtapose to which parts of the text.

For your reference, here's the relevant e-mail text. If you've already seen Alexandra's version, this isn't going to work; but if you haven't, then try this: first read my unadorned text, and then go read hers.


...There are five ways that humans express love; but for each of us, while we may like all five, only two or three actually make us FEEL loved. We need to be loved; but more specifically, each of us needs to be loved in one or two of these particular love languages.

The five languages are:

1. Words of affirmation.
2. Acts of service.
3. Quality time.
4. Gifts.
5. Physical touch.

Smalley includes questionnaires in his book to help you figure out what your primary and secondary languages are. On a scale from one to 12, I'm a 12 on physical touch and hardly register on anything else, meaning that if somebody wants me to feel loved they get more mileage out of a friendly punch in the arm than they do out of saying what a wonderful guy I am. My wife is quality time and words of affirmation. My dad is quality time; my mom is acts of service and gifts; my mother-in-law is gifts, as was my late grandmother.

In marriage, since the odds are that your language is not the same as your spouse's, an understanding of this dynamic can make a huge difference. You can't learn to feel loved by receiving a non-native love language, but you can certainly learn to speak your spouse's love language to him. Hypothetical example: you are quality time, but your husband is acts of service. He works himself silly doing chores around the house. Meanwhile you're sitting in the living room crying because, "My husband doesn't love me any more," because he never stops doing things in order to just sit and be with you. Now, no matter how much you tell yourself, "He's doing this because he loves me," you won't feel loved. But if he tells himself, "She really needs me to stop washing the dishes for here and instead sit and talk to her for a while," then he CAN do that, and then she feels loved. You just have to learn to express love in the language the other person needs instead of in the language you want to receive yourself -- to become multi-lingual in love, as it were.

It's not just marriage. My wife, as I said, is words of affirmation and quality time, while neither she nor I care in the slightest about presents. I used to bring home flowers and such because I had always heard women liked that stuff, but eventually I realized that when I would bring home a present my wife's immediate reaction would be, "Oh, God, I wonder how much THAT cost us?" followed somewhat belatedly by, "Of course it was a sweet thing for him to do." And then, "But I hope it wasn't too expensive."

So every Mother's Day, my wife would call her mom, and my mom, and (before she died) my grandmother, and talk to them awhile (quality time) about how much she appreciated them (words of affirmation). Then she and I read this book, and started realizing how much of our marital conflict was coming from not understanding this dynamic. And eventually the penny dropped: she realized, "Our moms are gift people."

The next Mother's Day, instead of calling the moms, Dessie had flowers delivered to both moms and my grandmother...and all three women called HER, literally in tears because they were so moved. And Dessie thought, "Oh, Lord, have I been stupid all these years or what?"...


Now, I mean it -- go read her post, right now. If nothing else, you absolutely cannot miss the "Quality Time" picture, which is almost enough to make me march right off and charter a plane to...whoops, better not give it away.

Note: The love languages concept comes from an excellent book by Gary Smalley. I would recommend The Five Love Languages to anybody, but especially to spouses and parents.


At 6:15 PM, Blogger Johnny Menace said...

what are you trying to sell me?

At 6:48 PM, Blogger Ken Pierce said...



I don't even have a tip jar, after all...


Post a Comment

<< Home