My friend Kent Gilbert was sitting on his porch in Berea, KY this week, spending an evening with friends and enjoying an adult beverage. So he wrote a Facebook post about it. What we all read was this: “Sitting on the porch with Katie and hand crafted gun and tonics.”
He was a victim of auto-correct. Whatever it was that he had actually typed, his innocent gin-and-tonic became grist for a lot of funny comments from everyone who read it.
Auto-correct is sometimes a helpful antidote to hasty or careless typing, but it is also famous for garbling innocent messages into embarrassing (though sometimes hilarious) ones. Changing just a letter or two completely changes the meaning of a sentence or a whole paragraph
I wonder how often we mentally “auto-correct” things we hear. We make a date to meet someone at the “coffee shop,” but our friend has a different coffee shop in mind. Or a neighbor expresses an opinion, and we convince ourselves that he really meant something a little closer to our own belief. Or we meet someone new and mis-remember her name, confusing her with someone else we know.
There are two effective antidotes for mental auto-correct. The first is careful, respectful, attentive listening – taking time to hear what is being said to us, without jumping to conclusions or judgments. The second is asking questions when we are tempted to fill in the missing details ourselves.
Have you ever noticed that situation comedies on TV almost always break both of these rules? The jokes are set up by characters who do not listen well and who jump to conclusions without asking questions. That may provide some humor on TV, but what it does in real life is not at all funny – causing misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and unwarranted conflict.
When we turn off our mental auto-correct, when we listen and ask with care, then we are able to be authentically helpful to one another in times of need. This is the heart of “pastoral care” – which is not just care from a “pastor” (that is, an ordained person). When we open our hearts to others, without (even accidentally) editing their words or experiences, we are caring for their souls and ministering to one another.
My friend was good natured about all the teasing he got about his “gun and tonic,” but the errors we make when we mentally auto-correct are not always so easily forgiven or forgotten. It is more than worthwhile to turn that function “off.”