A Time To Speak …

Some time ago I wrote a short piece on Instagram, which was in turn translated over to my daily Facebook feed, relating to the decline of communication in this day and age, especially given the many devices and means with which we all now have at our disposal to relate to one other.

In recent days the same issue has come back again and again to be of major concern in my world and has caused me to really feel the need to address the topic in the here and now … to relate observations and experiences and to provoke all who read this to look again at how they communicate with those around them.

In so doing I guess I’m throwing down the gauntlet and suggesting that there is really only one way to truly connect with another human being and that is by way of the spoken word!

Very recently I have had a number of profound and confronting experiences which have proved to me yet again that sending a text or dropping a quick note by email should only ever be regarded as a  preamble to a ‘proper’ spoken communication and should never take the place of time and words shared face to face, or even over the phone, with another.

This is especially relevant to my job as Media Coordinator for a national publishing company. I can send emails until the cows come home, but it is never until I speak with a second party on the phone that the full message is delivered, relationship is established and my success rate of acquiring editorial material for the magazine I work on soars. Just lately I have even been able to create a range of wonder human-interest features which are beyond the requirements of my job but have come about – to the delight of the publisher – as a consequence of me communicating one-on-one with customers and clients. All of this would never have happened if I had just sent an email or text!

Last week, sharing a number of short, brief texts and emailed notes with an esteemed gentlemen whose opinion I greatly respect and rely upon, the economy of words led me to interpret the entirely wrong message from the succinct missives shared … and I was devastated. How on earth could the same gentleman say such things? Did he not really know me and the value of our friendship? As it turned out – because his text was essentially ambiguous and could be interpreted in several ways – I later discovered that I had absolutely got everything upside down and inside out. Indeed it was not until, as upset as I was, we finally spoke to one another that I understood the error of my interpretation and ended up laughing at how easy it is to construe the wrong message from a text or email. The opposite of what I had ‘read’ was intended.

The whole experience ended up being incredibly healing and significant to our increased, shared depth of communication and understanding. But the resolve would NEVER have occurred if we had not picked up the phone and then ultimately met to discuss face to face.

A similar scenario of ‘inadequate communication’ occurred a number of other times in the past week, with several random texts and casual emailed notes ultimately leading me to feel dismissed on one hand and deeply hurt on the other as I was ‘group messaged’ in the delivery of important news that should have been exchanged by way of direct spoken conversation. When the opportunity to speak directly to each of the senders ultimately presented itself, the hearing of their voice and the sharing of intimacies and honest words was healing, edifying, encouraging and served to once again strengthen the bonds between us as we able to richly affirm one another.

In recent years there has been a great deal of research done into the increased use of texting and emailing and the impact these are having on our collective personal relationships. Many psychologists and social commentators now believe that, as these forms of communication continue to reduce our interaction to brief, succinct words and the random emoji or two, there has never been a greater need to exchange the spoken word.

Professionals state that talking with one another is to harness one of our most natural built-in therapeutic capacities. And it’s something we acquire right from the very beginning of life as we learn to express and exchange joy, distress, needs, love, to seek out comfort and find ways to make things right. The same ways of communication – speaking out our feelings, thoughts, emotions, reactions and so on – serve us through our growing up, adulthood and later years.

Talking gives us a sense of ‘doing’ something … of not being passive but rather active in our pursuit of answers and connection. It provides us with the opportunity to ‘hear’ ourselves and listed to others, allowing us the opportunity to examine, confirm or even adjust our thoughts and feelings in the process. And of course, talking provides the most wonderful of opportunities to connect with others … to share and even find solutions and healing as conversations lead to revelation and the imparting of advice, care, concern and even the easing of pain as ‘a burden shared is a burden halved’ as we speak out words of compassion and honesty.

Dr. Sherry Turkle – a licensed clinical psychologist, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology, and Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, USA – believes that everything we utter verbally functions on two different levels. She states “We’re all familiar with the first one: language communicates ideas. The second level is mostly invisible to us, but it plays a powerful role in communication. As a form of social behaviour, language negotiates relationships.

“Through ways of speaking we signal – and create – the relative status of speakers and their level of rapport. If you say ‘Sit down!’ you’re signalling that you have higher status than the person you are addressing; that you are so close to each other that you can drop all pleasantries; or that you are angry. If you say ‘I would be honoured if you would sit down,’ you are signalling great respect – or great sarcasm – depending on your tone of voice, the situation, and what you both know about how close you really are. If you say ‘You must be so tired – why don’t you sit down?’ you are communicating either closeness, concern or condescension.” Only by way of the spoken voice can the message be truly interpreted and understood!

“Each of these ways of saying ‘the same thing’ – telling someone to sit down – can have a vastly different meaning (that can never be delivered with a simple text or email).” Words must be spoken to truly deliver the messages … with all its subtle and intricate un-spoken messages and meanings woven in!

Turkle goes on to state “without conversation, we are less empathetic, less connected, less creative and fulfilled …  Texting (or emailing on Facebook and the like) ‘I love you’ can be sweet but it can also becomes robotic with a heart emoji or a kiss.  While it is fun to receive a love note, it may be far less meaningful than a quick phone call. Telling someone in a sincere tone of voice ‘I called to say I love you because you were so supportive when I was falling apart this morning’ is way more powerful than any text (or email could ever be).”

So let us all be honest with each other … the rise in technology has gone hand in hand with the rapid decline in the art of conversation and, with it, true and meaningful discourse and connection. By texting and emailing we don’t hear the intonation of the voice for a start. You can send the same typed message to four different people and they will all potentially come up with different meanings based on their own perceptions and the fact that all they have to go on is a few succinct words on a screen. They can’t tell if you are happy, sad, annoyed, distressed … a few typed words can never present the true situation of the sender and thus true depth of relationship can never be developed or even nurtured.

As one leading psychologist recently proclaimed “texting and emailing short sharp messages often gives people an easy way out! If you’re afraid of a potential reaction and don’t want to be confronted or sort out a situation, send a text. You alleviate any guilt about not communicating in the first instance but at the same time usually achieve no resolution to the situation at hand. Likewise this sort of communication can and has become a very manipulative tool used to cause harm from a distance.”

Meanwhile many developmental psychologists worry about the impact that all this is having on our younger generations who are still forming their personalities, stating that the reliance on technological communication is delaying the development of essential interpersonal skills.

As journalist Karen Owens, writing in the Khmer Times pleads … “Whatever is happening in your world? Put that mobile phone down (and emails to each other too) and talk to someone before you forget how!”

Thinking about this situation at hand I’ve come up with this analogy which I hope makes sense to all.

Texting is the ‘dust-buster’ of connection with someone else. Just like when you get out the dust-buster to do a quick clean up or vacuum a small area …  it’s a quick fix, not intended to do a complete clean up of the entire place but enough to say that “I’ve done something to feel a sense of taking action”.

Then there is the stick vacuum that does a more thorough job than a dust buster but not nearly as thorough a clean as can be done with a proper vacuum or other such device. Such is the email that reveals a little more than a text but doesn’t do as ‘good and complete’ a job as a proper voice communication.

And then there is the full, complete and thorough clean embodied by the used of the latest Miele or comparable vacuum that gets into all those nooks and crannies and really accomplishes the task properly … just like the shared word does the complete job of connection and communication between hearts and souls.

So my prayer is for all to no longer be passive or cursory in communication and connection with others who you care about. Take the time and effort to drag out that old vacuum from the cupboard and do a proper job! Pick up the phone or go visit and share words one to another and really reveal what is on your heart and mind. The depth of ‘cleansing and understanding’ one to the other will be profound and life-affirming and there will be no cause for a sense of the ‘brief, perfunctory or hasty’ to be felt as true sharing, understanding and the flow of love is revealed and affirmed!

Till next time


PS: As an aside – for the past two weeks I have declared a moratorium on emailed messages and have said ‘No’. Thus, in a quest to communicate with me, folks have had to pick up the phone and we have shared heart to heart and it has been enlightening, intimate, encouraging and even healing. We indeed have the means of communicating with one another in a proper and complete way … that’s why God gave us a voice!