Principles of communication applied to #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMatter

Communication is hard. It’s essential that our words be “full of grace and seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). In my observation, there’s a lot of miscommunication that goes on between the #BlackLivesMatter folks and the #AllLivesMatter folks. Use those slogans if you must, but keep these principles in mind:

Principle #1: What you say (mean) isn’t always what others hear (interpret). What you hear isn’t always what others say.

Principle #2: When we speak we generalize. When we listen we personalize.

Principles applied to #BlackLivesMatter/#AllLivesMatter.


What is meant (usually, in my experience): I am drawing attention to a particular injustice in society as a whole, I’m not saying that other lives don’t matter (general).

How it is heard, processed (often): Other people experience injustice and violence – cops, working poor whites, (maybe even) me. You are discounting their/my experience (personal).


What is meant (usually, in my experience): All lives matter, including Black lives. We shouldn’t have to pick a side (general).

What is heard, processed (often): You are discounting and trivializing my personal experience of injustice, or the experience of Black people in America (personal).

There is, obviously, a difference in emphasis here (“I care about injustice against Black people but I don’t discount injustice against others” vs “I care about injustice towards all, including injustice against Black people”). But, often what I see is a tendency to interpret the other person in the worst possible light.

A request to the who use these slogans:

Please understand how your slogan is, or could be, perceived by others. You are responsible for communicating clearly. If you are challenged, take the time to patiently explain yourself.

Please listen responsibly. Don’t assume the worse possible interpretation. If you think what they are saying is outrageous or insensitive, it might be, but give the benefit of the doubt first.

That last line is true of this blog post too! If you are angry about what I’ve said, or if I have spoken unclearly, please help me to clarify!