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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

March 8, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 214




Sister Rita Larivee Disposable words

Sister Rita Larivee, SSA, NCR associate publisher

How quickly words go out of print. At least that's been my impression of late. I've just returned from a weekend of discussions on the word "communication," and I've been reflecting on the disposable nature of words. I suppose that's a good thing, considering that not everything I write should be read. But quite often this past year I've had books recommended to me that when I go to look for them, I discover they are no longer available. I expect this when the book is quite old, but it jolts my system when the book is only a couple years old.

Other Today's Takes by Rita Larivee
Jan. 30, 04 Integral reality
Jan. 29, 04 The spiral of existence
Jan. 28, 04 Eight groups of consciousness
Jan. 27, 04 Not new solutions, new questions
June 25, 03 Use closed sessions with caution
June 23, 03 Baseball's best kept secret
May 20, 03 Managed truth (a.k.a. 'lying')
May 19, 03 Celebrating spring rites of passage
Is publishing become a throw away industry? Or even a fast-food industry?

I've been asking myself these questions for the past 24 hours. We all know from personal experience the disposable nature of e-mails. There was a time when a written letter was a coveted item to be cherished and placed in a box for safekeeping. E-mail may be faster and more effective for providing information, but as a replacement for the old-fashion personal letter, it leaves much to be desired.

Perhaps we've forgotten or misplaced the full meaning of communication. We were using words this weekend like "sender" and "receiver" and "the package of information to be delivered," only to realize that we were reducing human communication to technological terms.

One suggestion was that perhaps we needed to understand human communication as starting with a person who wishes to share something of meaning with another and that other person becomes a listener as part of the process. In fact, it takes two persons for any true communication to be happening.

But I wonder if we've forgotten this in our super-quick publishing world. Is it possible that more often than we would like to think we are playing both roles? Technology has enabled anyone to be published today; there are no criteria. But in our desktop publishing world, are we in danger of trading communication for self-serving soliloquies?

One thing I've learned from being in publishing is that it's fundamentally about community, which of course has the same root as communication. The publishing industry is never simply about individuals who like to write. At its core is a community of persons sharing with another community of persons, engaging in shared values or not, but always with the presumption that listening is going on, as well as response and continued dialogue.

The word we used this weekend to describe all of this was "communion." It doesn't mean we all agree or that there are no conflicts. But when you get down to basics, communications really can be understood as a sacramental act. The word "communion" within the Christian church has great meaning, but often goes unrecognized within our lives. Books will always go out of print and e-mails are what they are. But perhaps the Christian message to the world isn't so much the words themselves as it is the community that gathers.

We are learning much today about the negative effects of fast-food and life in a disposable world. It's just a thought, but maybe there's more to be learned here than first perceived that can just as well be applied to words. Perhaps there's some symbolic meaning for us to reflect on the next time we see our newspapers, magazines and paperback books alongside empty cereal boxes in the recycling bin.

Even this column will become a casualty in our fast moving world. Its lifespan is a mere 24 hours, but who knows, it may still be part of the mystery of "communion."

Rita Larivee is NCR associate publisher. She can be reached at

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