Is language our sole means of communication? And if so, what value lies in words? Could we not choose carefully, crafting sentences with good intention, mentally editing out anything we feel may be hurtful to another, no matter our current state of mind? Even if we are claiming needed boundaries, even if we must terminate a standing agreement, constructively criticize an employee, lay down the law to a life partner or child? Yes, I know – too much to expect. Though should we scrutinize the idea, we would discover its soundness. It would free us up from guilt, shame and blame. It would make us all better people, contributing to more peaceful interactions with those we love and care about. It would most assuredly posit long-reaching consequences for all of humanity. But this kind of care would require a momentary pause for reflection, and most of us simply feel a lack the time for such things.
I have often elicited a dismissive look from others as I attempt, with care, to formulate a reply or gather an idea in my head before expressing it. When I was younger, this made me feel quite daft, for I could easily write what I found vexing in speech. Thus it is no wonder some of us blurt and retract, blather and attempt to retrieve, reconcile and finally strive to regroup our fragile sense of dignity. Talk about time consuming.
Most people tune out subtle cues, save the minority of us who cultivate attention to them. We then take our Dale Carnegie course, but only to discover how we might gain advantage in a sale. We want to have the upper hand over our opponent in business, but the unpredictable, unexpected result is that this detached analytical approach, human being to human being, likewise spills over into our personal lives. Suddenly we are no longer aware that our loved one is seeking communion with us, we no longer gaze soulfully into their eyes – we only see an adversary as tensions mount. We no longer empathize with their fears and vulnerabilities. They become an assemblage of motions and cues, a stream of meaningless words long emptied of emotional import. Thought severed from feeling becomes second nature, and we wonder how relationships degrade into detritus.
We live in a harried society. Speed drives us into cramped mental caches, squeezing words from us in unending streams of meaningless drivel. Even between the most highly educated, words become a shield and ultimately a prison, protecting vulnerable feelings percolating within, until at long last they fly out in bursts of unexpected rage or become extinguished, unreachable, unfathomable. To be clear, this is what we collectively create, this is the model machine of corporate industry under whose employ many labor to sustain a once-desired standard of living. Boundaries between us exist like padded office cubicles, that image lodged in our psyches without respect to other persons, places or times. At long last, are we now beginning to discover the cost?