Children of a Lesser God — Communication and Connection


Children of a Lesser God, 1986

Starring William Hurt and Marlee Matlin.

Synopsis (from Netflix):

Speech teacher James Leeds (William Hurt) uses unconventional methods to reach his hearing-impaired students but can’t make headway with the school’s deaf custodian, Sarah Norman (Marlee Matlin, who captured the Best Actress Oscar). The brainy but cynical Sarah thinks it’s better to stay in the safe confines of her voiceless milieu than to contend with a callous world. Can James get through to Sarah and release her from her cocoon of silence?

My Thoughts:

My heart is still beating rapidly from watching this film.  It’s tagline is accurate.  There are so many different directions I could go from here.  The film unravels many themes and subjects from education, to communication, and connection.  These are all topics we deal with in our daily lives, and for the most part struggle with.  How do we educate without patronizing?  How do we learn without pride?  How can we truly listen and communicate?  How can we connect constructively?

This film follows two characters, a speech teacher at a deaf school and an angry former student who contends to live in silence.  This dynamic addresses a greater issue in our society.  How can people overcome differences to work, live, and grow together happily without imposing their views on others?  And how can we learn from others differences, and be humble enough and detached enough to embrace them?

In this film the difference is hearing versus deafness which creates an incredible hurdle for communication.  Some of the barriers to communication are direct and obvious and huge, but I think that the lessons we take away from the film can transcend this particular situation.  There are often barriers to communication which aren’t as conspicuous but that block communication just as strongly.

A fundamental lack of communication between peoples seriously undermines efforts towards world peace.  ~ The Universal House of Justice

It is amazing how often conflict springs from miscommunication, whether inter-personally or internationally.  We need to work to break down our barriers.  Some of the barriers that James and Sarah had to break down were pride and fear.  Pride kept Sarah from wanting to speak because she did not want to do anything she was not good at.  Having been ridiculed and harassed for attempting to speak kept her from wanting to ever speak again.  Pride also caused James to hurt Sarah.  Even though he did not think he was better than Sarah because he had an ability she did not have sometimes his actions communicated that and it was hurtful. Part of that also reaches to fear, as Sarah feared that she would get hurt and in doing so would see actions of James’ that were neutral as negative.

O SON OF DUST! The wise are they that speak not unless they obtain a hearing, even as the cup-bearer, who proffereth not his cup till he findeth a seeker, and the lover who crieth not out from the depths of his heart until he gazeth upon the beauty of his beloved. Wherefore sow the seeds of wisdom and knowledge in the pure soil of the heart, and keep them hidden, till the hyacinths of divine wisdom spring from the heart and not from mire and clay. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

This is something we all can think about and learn from.  How do we communicate?  Do people always communicate what we think they do or do we add meaning that they did not convey?  When we fear or judge people too quickly we can interpret what they say differently then they perhaps intend.  We can insert malice where there is none and that will only lead to conflict.

On the flip side we need to be aware of the other party when we speak.  Sometimes we are quick to speak before we fully think about how our words could hurt others.  This happened when James asked Sarah to say his name.  She had already expressed her reticence to speak and how she felt he was pressuring her, so when he did that it made her feel disrespected and used.

He must never seek to exalt himself above any one, must wash away from the tablet of his heart every trace of pride and vain-glory, must cling unto patience and resignation, observe silence and refrain from idle talk. For the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

I think often what creates conflict and barriers to communication are these two forces, pride and fear.  True communication takes patience, love, and humility.  It takes admitting that you might have misunderstood something and the willingness to ask for clarification so that you can better understand before judging.  So often people point to good communication as a factor for a good marriage.  It involves give and take, listening more often then speaking (for you should listen to yourself and how you come off in addition to listening to the other pers0n.   This film helped awaken my eyes to how we all struggle to communicate, so that we can build trust and connect.

3 thoughts on “Children of a Lesser God — Communication and Connection

  1. A very timely post for me as my kids’ school-of-choice community struggles to communicate with those in the rest of our school district, past the barrier of resentment they hold toward us. What especially struck me was the quote, “The wise are they that speak not unless they obtain a hearing…” Something is pulling me to think more deeply about that in connection with my situation. All of your writing contains such a deep beauty, and the repost before this one as well. Reading your blog always brings me back to myself when I get off-centered. Thank you Maeve!

    • Thank you so much Cheryl. I am glad we found each others blogs because building peace really does begin at a community/individual level. You have just paid me the greatest compliment and your feedback keeps me posting. That quote really speaks to me as well because as much as we want to communicate, if the other party isn’t ready or willing to listen we will get nowhere and that is hard to deal with. However I take some solace in the fact that I have the power to be ready to listen, to remember what it feels like not to be heard and therefore strive to listen without preconceived notions or judgments. True communication needs both parties to be open and willing to participate and if the other party isn’t ready it takes patience and love, for no amount of force will bring them around.

      • The really frustrating part of this particular situation is having a deadline imposed on the process (a school board vote) which doesn’t leave enough time to wait for people to be ready to listen, and that once the vote takes place it will be “over” and everyone will go their separate ways and lose interest in talking about it ….until the next big issue, which will just be a repeat of this because a real discussion will still have never taken place. Sigh. But like you said, I can try to make sure I am always ready to listen. In the end I am starting to think the only thing we can do to improve the world is to improve our own selves. Lord knows that’s plenty to keep me busy, anyway!

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