Babel, Babble and the Bible

What an ancient story can teach us about getting through to one another

Talking to one another is so easy to take for granted.

There’s a particular Bible story about language that (whether you believe in the Bible or not) is quite instructive. It’s about the tower of Babel, and the part that has a bearing on language is where it says…

You know what, I’ll just quote it:

And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:6–7 ESV)

It draws a straight line right through three points, from communication to unity to accomplishment:

“They are one people… they have all one language…And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”

The message is clear: to achieve any really major outcome (accomplishment), you need people. But you need those people to be in sync (unity), and for that to happen you need to get them to understand one another at a deep level (communication).

The idea is further reinforced: to prevent the outcome, the unity needed to be split, and doing that simply required breaking communication.

Thinking about it along the lines of what I said in my post on “Talking ≠ Communication” may throw even more light: think something like symbol remapping.

Picture a bunch of people who all understood each other because they used a shared set of symbols, with a common meaning. And then picture that suddenly, everything was switched around: having different meanings for the same symbols, and entirely new sets of symbols.

You see the confusion?

The real insight comes from thinking about this, not just as languages being changed, but as a parable for a world in which even those who speak the “same language” don’t understand each other, because they mean different things by the things they say.

Sound familiar?

The implications are huge in any scenario where unity is important and an outcome is desired. Which is basically any scenario involving more than one person. Which is basically every scenario that really matters: at home and work, in marriage and business, in leadership and friendships.

What do you think?

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Interested in more on communication? Read these:

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Published by Doc Ayomide

I’m a medical doctor with specialty training in psychiatry, and I love thinking and writing about what it means to be human.

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