You and the kids head out for the day to enjoy the game (and acquire the aforementioned edibles). When you return home, your spouse greets you at the door with a huge smile. "Honey, I've got something for you!" they beam. They blindfold you, lead you into the living room, and yell, "Surprise!" as they uncover your eyes just in team to see a mangy puppy doing his business all over your brand new carpet. "Isn't he great?" your spouse asks. Seeing the shock and dismay evident on your face, your spouse glares at you and whispers icily, "You said you wanted a dog...".
Have you ever thought you communicated a message perfectly clearly to another person, only to have them attribute a completely different meaning to what you said? This failure to communicate is referred to in communication studies as "semantic noise." You may be asking now, what does this have to do with the gospel? Well, a lot, I think. But before we get there, let's explore the concept of semantic noise a little further.
The diagram below presents a visual depiction of the communication process. The model below, based on the work of Shannon and Weaver (1940s) is vastly oversimplified, but useful for this discussion.
Notice that the model includes an information source (you) encoding a message (a desire for a frankfurter with mustard and relish) into symbolic form (the words "I can't wait to get a dog"), sending the encoded message through a channel (sound waves in the air), to be decoded on the other end by the receiver (your spouse). Ideally, the intended message (I want a frankfurter at the ballgame today) would be interpreted by your spouse as you intended. So what happened?
Notice the box labled "Noise Source", located in the middle of the model. Every time we communicate, there's the potential for noise to obscure or obstruct the message. Noise comes in several varieties:
- Physical noise: "I can't hear you - the music's too loud"
- Physiological noise: "How can I concentrate on this sermon when I'm starving?"
- Psychological noise: "I'm so mad at Rita for what she said - Oh, I'm sorry Donna, now what were you saying?"
- Semantic noise: Confusing "dog = frankfurter" with "dog = puppy"
Semantic noise, in which communicators assign different meanings to the same word, is by far the most pernicious of these noise sources, because generally we're unaware that it's occurring. We know to turn the music down if we're experiencing physical noise, but we rarely consider the need to clarify our language so as to avoid semantic distortion of our messages.
So, what does our humorous example of confusion over the word "dog" have to do with the Gospel? Stay tuned...