The Basics of Communication: Tell, Show, Imply

by Doy Moyer

We need to get past the constant criticism of CENI (Command, Example, Necessary Inference).

The problem with CENI is not that it is a failed hermeneutic. The problem is that we have clouded the terminology so much that we have forgotten what basic communication is all about. CENI is fancy talk for the basic principles of communication -- what we use anywhere at any time for everyone. How so?

When you want to make your will known, how do you do it? May I suggest one of three ways?

  1. You tell someone;
  2. You show someone;
  3. You imply something you expect people to get.

This, of course, is the simplified version of CENI. When people disparage CENI, I don’t think they’ve really thought this point through. Attacking CENI is attacking the foundation of communication. And it won’t logically stand.

Here’s the kicker: the whole principle (what I refer to more appropriately as “tell, show, and imply”) is self-evident. Anyone who wants to deny this is free to try it. But if you do, please do not tell me anything about it, show me anything about it, or imply anything about it. To do so would be self-defeating.

In other words, “tell, show, and imply” is logically necessary. It is the way we communicate anything. Now I realize that this doesn’t get to the nuts and bolts of application, but I do think we need to get past this constant criticism of CENI. Perhaps we should lose the CENI terminology, but the principle that underlies it is logically necessary. In my opinion, our mistake has been that we haven’t explained that fundamental communication process — we’ve skipped right to the fancy talk and left people wondering, “where do you find that in the Bible?” You find it right where you find it anytime someone communicates anything. It is a fundamental starting point, and I don’t believe anyone can logically deny it without defeating their own denial.

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