Who Are You Talking To?

“Women speak because they wish to speak, whereas a man speaks only when driven to speak by something outside himself-like, for instance, he can’t find any clean socks.” ― Jean Kerr

I talk for a living.

These days I am living by myself. This situation is made even more solitary by the quarantine situation we are all enduring. I find myself roaming through the house doing a lot of talking aloud and often stop and wonder, “who are you talking to?”

I do realize that my situation leaves me brimming with words to spill out on to others when the rare social occasion arrives. This seems odd to me because historically I’ve not usually someone who feels the need to share – I will always entertain, but not always reveal. But these days, I can’t seem to stop talking.

Dear friends had dinner with me last week. I had told myself AGAIN to please keep my mouth shut and listen more. Halfway through the evening I realized I was feeling hoarse and suddenly became horrified – have I really been talking that much? Like some sort of prisoner released from solitary confinement out of the Russian gulag? What’s wrong with me?

Is this need for social connection really that powerful? This desire to communicate, to be heard, to share our experiences, to know deep down that we are not alone? I think I’m bumping into a yes answer to much of this. I can show you in all sorts of textbooks why this is true, but now I seem to know it from my own lived experience.

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” ― Albert Camus

Even using technology; texting, emails, zooms, and face-timing have all made this life we are now living so much more bearable. We complained before about how technology had wormed its way into every crook and cranny of our living – but now we ought to be so thankful for these tools that allow human connections to continue – people are joking about that guy’s funny shirts on laptop meetings.

Where would I be if I didn’t have all of these people in my life constantly throwing out lifelines of connection to me? All those taken for granted bits of small talk, shared experiences and personal updates? These little webs of interconnection hold us together AND hold us individually together inside (keep us from turning into a cat lady).

Some Down and Dirty Rules for Talking

Listen to yourself: if you’re talking so much, so fast, dominating the time and space, then you’re not hearing yourself. You’re breaking the speed limit. Slow down when you’re no longer aware of what and how you’re speaking to everyone else in the room. Don’t become a mindless word processor that doesn’t know when to shut up or slow-down or back up.

Listen to the other person: The best conversationalists are not the talkers but the hearers. How do you know someone is hearing you? They look you in the eye, they ask follow up questions, their expressions match the mood you are setting with your story. Don’t stomp all over the end of each other’s conversation because you’ve become over-eager to tell your own story. As we get older I think this might happen because we’re all afraid if we don’t spit it out now, we will forget!

Watch your body language: Being isolated like this has kept us from being in shared space where we use body language to communicate so much of our experiences. Now, wearing a face mask will continue to make this difficult. The eyes become that much more essential conveyors of emotion. But if you’re not even going to look at someone or if you’re on a computer screen with your eyes off camera watching something else, body language is lost. This is such an important dimension of communication, when we miss out on it, it’s too late that we discover the poverty of the interaction.

Who ARE You Talking To?

What if this season of isolation was a time when you could do some more talking with God? Maybe you could make some good happen out of this misery? It’s been my experience that when we regularly talk with God our levels of frustration, fear and despair seem to diminish. Circumstances might not change, but our outlook and perspective is altered when we are consistently talking with God.

“For many of us prayer means nothing more than speaking with God. And since it usually seems to be a quite one-sided affair, prayer simply means talking to God. This idea is enough to create great frustrations. If I present a problem, I expect a solution; if I formulate a question, I expect an answer; if I ask for guidance, I expect a response. And when it seems, increasingly, that I am talking into the dark, it is not so strange that I soon begin to suspect that my dialogue with God is in fact a monologue. Then I may begin to ask myself: To whom am I really speaking, God or myself?” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

I think this is exactly right! But maybe now there is time, time to be silent, time to be still and wait. Maybe during the lock-down in your life, there is time to listen for an answer – maybe even one that’s been there all along.

 

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How Connected Are You, Really?

“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.” ― Edward R. Murrow

Not another rant from a Boomer about too much cell phoning!? (sorry)

Who would have ever predicted the speed of our technological invention in the area of communication? We are all carrying a Star Trek communicator in our pocket. Platforms like email, Facebook, and Twitter to name a few, allow almost unlimited connections with friends, families, strangers (and foes).

We are now sharing photos of our new grandson within our family everyday. I can teach college classes to students who reside in different cities and states. My students can send me an email with questions late at night while they are working on homework or studying for exams. Cell phone calls make keeping in touch with family all over the state at any time of day.

There is an illusion that can easily take place. Our technology now allows us to communicate all of the time and with almost anyone. But all this easy “talking” doesn’t necessarily mean that much is really being said.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ― George Bernard Shaw

How many times have you created a misunderstanding with an email? Do you fully understand every text and tweet, even from people you know so well?

THREE REASONS WHY DIGITAL COMMUNICATION OFTEN FAILS

ONE: Volumes of meaning are typically communicated through our body language. Your facial expressions and gestures are important, even essential tools that you use when you communicate. You spend years of your younger years learning how to “read” the body language of others. Skyping during meetings is so popular because it allows people to feel like they can “read” the room better.

  • Where are your eyes wandering while you are listening?
  • How about the way your legs are positioned when you sit?
  • What about how you are standing or sitting when speaking?

Scientists today predict that our young people are launching into adulthood with poor social skills because they haven’t had the practice with enough real time mastering how to interpret body language. They’ve spent so much time on their phones and not enough time with real people.

TWO: When you are in the physical company of others there is a power of presence that can’t be replaced by digital means. Aren’t you guilty of saying things in a text that you might not ever say face-to-face?  Maybe it’s too quick, impersonal or mean. Remember the rule about counting ten before pushing the send button? When someone is right in front of you, the tendency is to take greater care about how, what and why you speak the way you do. There is some physical force that shapes the style of communicating.

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” ― Albert Camus

THREE: When you communicate in person you can’t just refuse to click “open” and leave the dialogue in limbo. There is a strong inability to ignore that occurs when you are in the physical presence of others. When you’re with someone you just have to talk it through or make it up or fight it out or reach a conclusion. Being with someone adds something irreplaceable to the interaction, you just can’t turn off the phone.

Volume doesn’t make up for depth. You already knew this to be true. But the truth isn’t always at the heart of what any of us does. Being connected is still essential. Being connected in the right ways matters most. At the end of your day, think about how many real people you’ve actually interacted with, in person.

“Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.” ― Charlie Kaufman