Michael Oher is a teenage boy who grew up in the inner-city projects. He comes from a broken home with a drug addicted mother and non-existent father and has to live on the streets to get by. Michael is never settled in a stable environment as he is moved around through various foster homes creating a constant feeling of insecurity due to being discarded by the all the people who have taken him in. Events take a turn for Michael when a coach sees his size as a benefit to the school’s football team and Michael gains enrollment into a Private Christian School. Through this Michael befriends the Touhy children and his life is set on a course towards success professionally as well as acceptance into a loving home. In Michael’s story you see many examples of interpersonal communication and how he overcomes communication hindrances and finds success in his life but more importantly a family who provides him with the love and support he had always been looking for.
When the Touhy family first bring Michael to their home after seeing him on the streets, he tries to leave the immediately the following morning. Michael does this, I believe, to nonverbally excuse failure. Our interpersonal communications book in chapter five explains this strategy as a way to help manage impressions saying, “while you form impressions of others, you are also managing the impressions they form of you, using different strategies to achieve different impressions” (DeVito, Joseph A., 2018). Michael is forming an impression about the Touhy’s that this stay is again just temporary as his other brief stays with prior foster families. It therefore gives off the impression to them that he feels unwanted and needs to be convinced to stay around. Leah Anne conveys her desire to have Michael around by insisting again and again that he should stay for dinners and favors. Eventually offering to provide him with a room in their home.
To learn more about Michael Leah Anne starts to research his records and finds that he has very strong instincts for protection. It is with this knowledge that Leah Anne teaches Michael the rules and techniques of football and this helps Michael to finally understand fully his role on the field. This assistance from Leah Anne Michael begins to demonstrate he can play well and has benefit to his team and starts to give Michael confidence and the beginnings to better interact with others. Michael’s interaction with others has always been difficult due to his rough upbringing. You see this behavior in Michael throughout the film where he is quite and can only truly interact with children.
Before the Touhy’s Michael felt that he was different and didn’t belong. This reaction was apparent in his interactions with “white” people as they tended to keep their distance from him and therefore, he would do the same. This hesitation for others to get to know Michal comes from his bulky size and his coloring which came off as intimidating when in reality he is a gentle giant. Our interpersonal communications book explains in chapter five that our bodies can communicate nonverbally due to “others forming impressions of you from your general body build; from your height and weight; and from your skin, eye, and hair color. Assessments of your power, attractiveness, and suitability as a friend or romantic partner are often made on the basis of your body appearance” (DeVito, Joseph A., 2018).
This type of body communication that people perceive when they come across Michael is brought up in another moment of the movie when Leah Anne again shows her compassion to Michael after Michael advises Leah Anne that he does not like being called “Big Mike”. It is when Lean Anne responds to him saying that “she will only call him Michael from now on” that he feels like she is really understanding him and wants him to feel comfortable with her. This moment for Michael created what our interpersonal communications book, again from chapter five, explains as immediacy. It states that “immediacy is the creation of closeness, a sense of togetherness, a oneness between speaker and listener. When you communicate immediacy, you convey a sense of interest and attention, a liking for, and an attraction to, the other person” (DeVito, Joseph A., 2018).
Throughout the movie you see Leah Anne demonstrate her determination to help Michael and make him feel compassion from her and her family. It was again Leah Anne who had the biggest impact on Michael’s thought about being a part of the Touhy Family. A key moment would be when she invites Michael to be in their traditional family Christmas card photograph. This could be seen as the second stage of the friendship relationship mentioned in chapter ten of the interpersonal communications book. This stage is labeled “Involvement” and is described as “a dyadic consciousness, a clear sense of “we-ness,” of togetherness; communication demonstrates a sense of immediacy. At this stage, you participate in activities as a unit rather than as separate individuals” (DeVito, Joseph A., 2018). It is after this that Michael begins to realize that he is accepted as part of the Touhy’s family. He is then able to let his guard down and open up to show glimpses of his funny and happy self. It is in this involvement stage in chapter ten of our book goes on to discuss saying that this is when “you start to express yourself openly and become interested in the other person’s disclosures. Because you’re beginning to understand this person, you empathize and demonstrate significant other-orientation. You also demonstrate supportiveness and develop a genuinely positive attitude, both toward the other person and toward mutual communication situations. There is an ease at this stage, a coordination in the interaction between the two persons. You communicate with confidence, maintain appropriate eye contact and flexibility in body posture and gesturing, and use few of the adaptors that signal discomfort” (DeVito, Joseph A., 2018). This very well explains the opening up process that Michael goes through after finally feeling true friendship with Leah Anne as well as the Touhy family.
Through assistance and compassion from the Touhy’s combined with Michael’s own determination to learn the game of football and complete school that he ultimately becomes successful in becoming a professional football player, but also in gaining a family that he was missing for so long. Seeing this story and knowing better about the ways people communicate really helped to see and understand Michael’s emotions and thought process about what he was going through. This understanding gave a better sense of the emotions that other people carry and makes me personally want to be more aware of others hidden inner struggles. With this knowledge there can be more empathy and acceptance of others around you.
- DeVito, Joseph A. (2018). Revel The Interpersonal Communication Book 15e.