Saturday, July 14, 2007

Words and pictures

Note: I first posted this article August 2006 but I am reprinting it at this time. You see, I just got home after attending Chip Ingram's "To Have and To Hold" marriage and relationships seminar held at the Greenhills Christian Fellowship. Some 500 to 700 people attended the seminar, and one communication tool Chip suggested was the use of "word pictures." As there wasn't enough time on the schedule, Chip did not discuss in detail what word pictures were about. So, I am reprinting this article not only for those who attended the seminar but for everyone who may not have read this article before.
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Emotional word pictures as a communication tool for increasing intimacy between husbands and wives

Last Sunday morning, on my way to church, I rode on an Ayala-bound FX taxi from Countryside, Pasig where I live. While we were speeding along the stretch of C-5 in Pasig, the FX taxi driver, on two or three occasions, through his cellphone, engaged in lengthy conversations with a woman (presumably his wife judging from the topics of conversation).

The FX taxi was full of male and female passengers. I was seated in front beside the door, with a sleeping male passenger between me and the driver. Since the FX taxi driver was speaking in a loud voice (instead of trying to just whisper into his cellphone), everyone in the taxi could hear his dialogue with the woman at the other end of the line. At the end of each call, he would say sweetly, “Love you!”

I’m sure all the women passengers in the FX taxi were sighing and swooning over with emotion, hearing this macho driver saying, “Love you!” to his wife loud enough for everyone to hear. I’m doubly sure that the male passengers, on the other hand, were squirming in their seats, totally embarrassed by this FX taxi driver’s very public and loud display of affection.

And me?

I was holding on tightly to the hand rail above the front right door, and bracing both my feet hard against the floorboard. You see, it was raining a bit that morning and the stretch of C-5 from the newly opened SM Hypermart near Julia Vargas, the flyover in Bagong Ilog in Pasig, and the bridge marking the boundary between Pasig and Makati, was wet and a bit slippery. The love-struck FX taxi driver was holding his cellphone against his ear with his left hand, while holding on to the steering wheel with his right hand.

A simple miscalculation on the part of this amorous driver, a piece of rock on the road, a jaywalking pedestrian, another vehicle suddenly stopping or swerving, any of these things could have caused an accident. Despite the interesting conversation I was hearing from the romantic FX taxi driver, all I could think of was, “So this is the way I’m going to die, on an FX taxi that gets sideswiped by other vehicles on C-5, or gets crumpled ramming a Meralco post, or jumps off the bridge at the Pasig-Makati boundary, hurtling all of us into the muddy waters of the Pasig River below, and the last words I will hear would be the amorous FX taxi driver's 'Love you!' …”

What we have here is a failure to communicate …
Gary Smalley and John Trent, PhD, marriage counselors and popular seminar speakers in the US, have written a book entitled “The Language of Love” (copyright 1988; Published by Focus on the Family Publishing, California; distributed by Word Books). You can find copies of this book in Christian bookstores (OMF Lit, PCBS) or in National Bookstore branches. For the last 35 years, Smalley has spoken to over two million people in seminars.

(If you'd like to learn more about Smalley's concepts, books and seminars, please surf over to his website Dr. Trent’s website is and his blog is

Smalley and Trent, before discussing what their book is all about, point out the differences in the brain structures of men and women. These differences are responsible for all the miscommunication problems between men and women. Please surf over to my previous article “Do wives really want their husbands to share their thoughts and emotions with them?” where I discussed the differences between men and women.

(Please take note that there also Christian authorities, like Martin and Deidre Bobgan, who dispute Smalley and Trent's "left brain - right brain" ideas. Please read with discernment anything I recommend to you in this blog, okay?)

Word pictures for increasing insight, intimacy and understanding

In this book, Smalley and Trent present their concept of “emotional word pictures” as a communication tool for increasing insight, intimacy and understanding between husbands and wives. At the outset, they say that “everyday words” are not enough. On page 9, they state their case for using emotional word pictures:

No matter who you are or what you do, you can’t escape the need to communicate meaningfully with others. And without exception, we all will run into the limitation of everyday expressions.

In a world awash with words, can we find a way to add new depth to what we say? Can a wife find a method to penetrate her husband’s natural defenses and get her point across so he will long remember it? Can a man express himself more vividly or say the same old thing in a brand new way? Can men and women say more by using fewer words?

To all the above, the answer is a resounding YES! Largely unused in marriage, homes, friendships, and businesses is a tool that can supercharge communications and change lives. This concept is as old as ancient kings but is so timeless that it has been used throughout the ages in every society. It’s a powerful communication method we call emotional word pictures.
Smalley and Trent, in page 17 of their book define emotional word pictures as “a communication tool that uses a story or object to activate simultaneously the emotions an intellect of a person. In so doing, it causes the person to experience our words, not just hear them.” They add, “Whenever we need to communicate important communication with another person, word pictures can multiply the impact of our message.”

Five reasons why word pictures work

In pages 21 to 28, Smalley and Trent give five reasons why word pictures work effectively, to wit,
[1] Word pictures have been time-tested by the world’s greatest communicators.

[2] Word pictures grab and direct attention.

[3] Word pictures bring communication to life.

[4] Word pictures lock thoughts into our memory.

[5] Word pictures provide a gateway to intimacy.

To support their thesis, Smalley and Trent cite the Old Testament story of the prophet Nathan confronting King David about his murder of Uriah and his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. Instead of directly accusing David, Nathan told him the story of a poor man whose sheep was stolen by a rich and powerful neighbor. The story appealed to David’s sense of justice reinforced by his background of being a shepherd in his youthful days. When he demanded to know who the covetous neighbor was to have him answer for his crime, Nathan then said, “You are the man!” As Psalms 51 tells us, David was reduced to tearful repentance and sorrow over his sins.

(If you’re a classic Literature buff, you would probably remember Shakespeare’s words in Hamlet, “The play’s the thing, to catch the conscience of the king.”)

Smalley and Trent also point to the Old Testament book of ”Song of Solomon” as a classic example of a man and woman using word pictures to communicate with one another. Consider for example, Chapter 4 of the book, where the bridegroom graphically, romantically describes each part of his lover’s body.

(If you want to understand “Song of Solomon” on the basic level of a husband and wife’s sexual relationship, I recommend to you the book “Romantic Lovers, The Intimate Marriage” by David and Carole Hocking, published by Harvest House Publishers.)

Examples of word pictures
In Chapter 16 of their book, Smalley and Trent have listed down some “101 life-tested word pictures” as a guide. Some of these examples are:

[1] My husband treats me like a roomful of priceless antiques. He walks in, picks me up, and holds me with great care and tenderness. I often feel like I’m the most precious thing in our home. He saves the best hours and his best effort for me, not the television.

[11] My wife’s love is like a huge glass of ice tea on a hot summer’s day. It’s cool and crisp and its refreshment restores my strength and quenches the thirst of dry, dusty soul.

[15] Life’s problems sometimes make me feel like the captain of a sinking ship. Often, the closer the ship gets to going under, the more those around me dive overboard and leave me to save the vessel by myself. I’m thankful to have a first mate who stays by my side no matter what. If it weren’t for her and the quite, gentle strength she always uses to encourage me, I would have given up and jumped overboard a long time ago.

Seven steps in creating emotional word pictures

Some of you might be thinking, that’s well and good for people who can write, for those with the natural talent or facility with language, for the AB English majors or those guys from Batangas or Bulacan with the natural flair for words and poetry. Well, in Chapters 5 and 6, Smalley and Trent discuss the seven steps in creating emotional word pictures. These are:

[1] Establish a clear purpose.

[2] Carefully study the other person’s interests.

[3] Draw from the Four Inexhaustible Wells – the Well of Nature; the Well of Everyday Objects; the Well of Imaginary Stories; and the Well of “remember When”

[4] Rehearse your story.

[5] Pick a convenient time without distractions.

[6] Try and try again.

[7] Milk your word picture for all it’s worth.

On a personal note, around ten years ago, I wrote to a former high school student who told me that she was willing to be a doormat for her family, remain unmarried and just serve the needs of her elderly parents, her brothers and sisters all her life. I wrote to her and among other things, I told her:
Some people react to their fears by closing their hearts to all possibility of loving and being loved, scaring away, turning away anyone who even dares to come close … So what’s the answer? Maintaining an ice-cold veneer that will proclaim to the world that you don’t need anybody else?

Refusing to acknowledge that you need to love and be loved in return? Dumping your heart into a strongbox and throwing away all the keys? Burning all the drawbridges to your heart to isolate yourself from every possibility of being hurt and being disappointed?

Putting on an armor of emotional invincibility and sophistication, just laughing at the things that so concern other people, wondering why one person can get so all worked up about another person? Deny that you are emotionally affected even though a cold hand clutches your heart?
Well, well, well, I didn’t realize at that time that I was practicing Smalley and Trent’s emotional word pictures … Words (emotional word pictures even more so) do have power. As one modern translation of the Bible says, “Death and life are in the power of our words.” Or as the King James Version of Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”

Marital tension will exist despite good communication skills

But it is a serious mistake to think that if we start and continue to use emotional word pictures to our spouses (or boyfriends and girlfriends), all of our communication problems or all marital tension would cease to exist. I think it was Dr. Larry Crabb who said (either from his book “Finding God” or from “The Marriage Builder”) that a lot of times, marital tension will exist despite the use by either or both spouses of good communication skills.

Why? Because men and women are fallen creatures, sinful by nature and by choice. Genesis 3:16 says, “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Reputable and fundamental Bible scholars tell us that the phrase “thy desire shall be to thy husband” does not refer to a woman’s sexual desire for her husband.  

Rather, it refers to the perpetual conflict between a man and woman as the woman tries to wrest and maintain control of the relationship, which has been ordained for men. This interpretation is based, as these Bible scholars say, on the similarity of words and grammar of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7. The latter verse says, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”

Moreover, it is wrong to believe that the Old Testament prophet Nathan's use of "emotional word pictures" in confronting David was solely responsible for the latter's turn of heart. The Bible says that men and women's hearts are “deceitful above all things” and without God's Holy Spirit convicting people of sin, no repentance is possible.

Nevertheless, boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, will do well in learning from Smalley and Trent what emotional word pictures are, their power in increasing intimacy in a relationship and how to create such word pictures. The book is a little bit expensive but hey, what’s a little expense if you want a better relationship, right? Get the picture?

Well, well, well, word pictures. I wonder if that amorous FX taxi driver last Sunday had ever read Smalley and Trent’s book. I arrived safely in church last Sunday, but we could have met an accident because that love-struck driver was exchanging emotional word pictures rather than minding his driving. A simple miscalculation on the part of this amorous driver, a piece of rock on the road, a jaywalking pedestrian, another vehicle suddenly stopping or swerving, any of these things could have caused an accident.

I wonder, if ever I ride again on that FX taxi driven by that amorous driver and we meet an accident and we all die on that wet and slippery road, could someone please ask Congress to name that C-5 bridge between Pasig and Makati after me? “The Gerry T. Galacio Bridge of Sighs.” Now, that’s a word picture!

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