Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Silence as a communication device...powerful and discreet and deceptive

 Let’s try to break down the experience of communicating, first from the perspective of the originator of the communication, and then from the prespective of the recipient of the message.

Most of us are blurting out words, grunts, frowns, raised eyebrows, eye rolls and/or glances, turning our bodies, bending our bodies, stamping our feet, and then there are all of the variables of “degree” in each of these messages. We want to ask for something, reply to someone for something they did, respond to another’s person, facial expressions, verbal intonations including the vocabulary chosen. And each and every experience during which we are communicating with another person is freighted with all of the other moments of communication starting at the beginning.

For example, if we have heard loud voices early in our baby years, we have already associated various interpretations of that volume. They could be ‘dark and frightening,’ or ‘enthusiastic and cheerleading,’ ‘contentious and argumentative,’ ‘impatient and critical’ whether or not we had yet even known the various nuances of meaning. And we did respond….we smiled, or cried, turned away, frowned, screamed, grabbed a soother/bottle, or whichever one of a myriad of ways we had through which to “express” ourselves. There is considerable evidence, even from the ultrasounds, that baby fetuses respond to various sounds they experience prior to their actual birth.

The now one-year-old Portugese Water Dog sleeping in her pen in the family room “speaks” using every muscle, leg, jaw, eye, ear and her ability to “absorb” however that process happens. She frolicks in the snow, she scurries through the sprinkler in summer, she rushes to the backyard fence when the neighbour Rob is cutting the lawn or tending his garden, she barks at 5:00 a.m. if she happens to hear an unexpected sound from a neighbour’s yard, or a blue jay in the pine tree overhead. Even the posture she uses while sitting in her pen carries an “expression” as does the frenetic dance she engages when she wants extra attention. Not in need of a ‘recording studio’ where performances are rehearsed, polished, and then performed as if for an audience, this little fury friend already knows that every day and every moment in every day is not merely a rehearsal, it is a moment of being fully alive. Her desires and motives are so glaringly obvious, as are her moods and feelings, that it is her ‘humans’ responsibility to learn to read and respond approrpriately to those messages. Even when she persistently stretches to the kitchen counter in search of anything, whatever might be open and ready for her pounce, and needing another of the thousands of reminders to ‘get down,’ she is sending a message….and those messages rush like white water, from second to second, even nano-second to nano-second….such is the time warp of  the intense attention, curiosity, desire and willingness to please, and especially to “attach” herself to either of her two humans. “Velcro” as applied to her is neither a joke nor an exaggeration. It is both metaphorically and literally true, from the moment she wakens to the moment she re-enters her crate for the night.

On the human scale, we too learn to “express” all of those emotional and intellectual aspirations, perceptions, attitudes, in ways many of us simply take for granted, as most of them have become unconscious. Our demeanour, too, is an expression of how we see ourselves, and our integration of how we would like others to see us. And that mix of self-appreciation and apperception and the impact of the signals we have received from others whose paths have crossed our’s blurs into a set of mannerisms, postures, body movements, and voice sounds that help to identify us to ourselves and to others.

The phrase, “you are what you eat” or “you are what you believe” both pale in comparison to “you are what you utter”…..simply because what you utter will reinforce, potentially, a picture that you are trying to build or to convey, of the unique human being with your name and birthdate, with your address and birth parents, with your academic certificates and your job position, with the church or club to which you belong and the associates in your circle. Similarly, what we do not utter, although far less noteable, and even far less likely to be recorded in our memory, and certainly not noted by another for not having been uttered, is also both a choice and a message to another.

If someone says to you, “I love you” and you greet that expression with silence, you are sending such a booming message of rejection, without ever having to account for having been offensive. You were silent. And that silence will echo in the ear, heart and mind of the ‘other’ for the rest of his/her life. Similarly, if you say those words to another, “I love you” and you receive the response of silence, you will carry that ‘wound’ forever. Rejection, in all of its many faces and forms, is, after all, so memorable, that the moment, the face of the other person, and the profound cut that is left on our psyche, while it might heal in strong scar tissue (metaphorically), nevertheless is embedded in our psyche forever.

Silence then and rejection, both expressions of rejection, are indelible. And yet our culture pays inordinate time, energy and study of the “utterances” that are recorded, recordable, in extrinsic form. It is our shared privitizing of the silence of rejection that leaves such experiences in the category of intimate, private, and not accessible for sharing simply because they expose us as so vulnerable and unlikeable that we are too ashamed to let another know. The source of either silence or rejection, too, can be a matter of permanent imprinting on our psyche…for example, if our father’s ambition for his son or daughter exceeds both the capacity and the will of the child at the time of that disconnect, both parent and child will be impacted by the disconnect, and each life will proceed in part shaped by that disconnect.

I think it was Tennyson who reminded us that we are all a part of all that we have met….and those parts that have impacted us most deeply have resulted from communication that is fixed in our memory. Whether we become fixated on those moments, or, like the Irish, never forget those moments, (mea culpa) they continue to reverberate in the drum-skin of our hearts and minds, long after the drum and the drum stick have disappeared. Neurolinguistic programming, for example, operates on the principle that if and when a thought or a new behaviour is going to be “learned and integrated into our routine” we repeat its message while touching a part of our bodies to “underscore” the message, making it a “part of our physical experience as well as our intellectual, cognitive experience. Body and mind, both simply and inexpressibly ephemerally, are a single person, never to be detached, separated one from the other, so long as no wound or illness accomplishes the separation.

There is a case to be made for the litany of messages that one has accumulated, almost like a list of stocks and bonds of experience, on which we base much of our attitude, beliefs, actions and ideologies. We do not consider those significant messages, however, as part of our identity unless and until we drag them out of the dark unconscious when a situation prompts their revisit, evoking again, although different this time, a moment in our past that we might have long ago forgotten.

The apparent linearity of our lives, from birth to age one and on to whatever age we are alive, is a distortion of the other kind of reality that can be described as ‘circular’ given that whatever we have experienced, especially if any of those  experiences have seemingly been repeated, does and will return. It is not only that we are genetic off-shoots from our parents, but we are also “archetypical” representations (not replications) of those parents. We have seemingly imperceptibly and unconsciously assimilated both their mannerisms, their words, their attitudes, and their ways of doing various things. We have not “done” this overtly, willfully, or even deliberately. And yet, it has happened. And given that those parents were different, we have adopted, assimilated and absorbed mannerisms, attitudes, vocabulary and body movements of each. This is one of the remarkable, and often inexplicable aspects of families: that young Tom will evoke a picture of uncle Joe, long after Joe has deceased, without even knowing it.

One of the many implications of our intimate and inexplicable replication of our family “inheritances” (genetic, psychological, sociological, even ethical and spiritual, and not financial or antique) is that we are more than we are aware of, and unconscious of what that might even look like. Rebelliousness, for example, in our family, in taking up or in resisting some ideology, faith community, or “dream” is, to borrow another cliché, “baked into the cake” of our identity.

And yet, for purposes of our healthy and protective security, we share these “imponderables” only with our closest friends and family. Even the concept of identity has been reduced to some glib “gender” identity, or some ethnic or racial identity, or some historic period to which we are assumed to belong. It is not that any of these “identity” criteria are irrelevant; it is just that our identity is so much more than any of these  often distinguishing, and alienating, traits, permit a level of contempt and hate because of our unwillingness to see “who” the other is through a much deeper and more complex lens.

Just recently, I was engaged in a small community project, with a few others, for whom I became merely a “position” and particular “view” of how things might proceed. And opposite that view, they positioned their “view” resulting in the reduction of all those involved to their “position” while affecting a literal and permanent dismissal of who we are as persons. My position was used to dismiss me, given that the “view” of others appeared incompatible with their’s. I was considered to have been the one whose motto was ascribed as “it’s his way or the highway”….when in reality, I was not only open to merging the two “views” with a modified significance of both for the sake of the overall project. And yet, when that option was put on the table, it was silence that came back.

Silence, from a small group, has to indicate that others share a view that they wish not to debate, for whatever reason. And of course, into such a vacuum rushed the political class, bent and determined to demonstrate their eminent worth and responsibility, given that elections are looming.

When I was greeted, subsequently with the assessment, from a participate, that “politics” is always tough and in small towns it is especially tough, I immediately responded, “Politics is a word that is used to camouflage bad human behaviour which would never be tolerated in any respectful, dignified and relationship-building experience. Building relationships, as opposed to the immediate creation of some public edifice that justifies the political ambition of elected officials, takes time, and especially takes time together to get to know others with whom one is working.

And that cannot and will not be accomplished though private, secret, and determined communication that excludes others.

We are speaking to others, sometimes even more loudly, in silence, than we would be if we were across a table, arguing the merits of our “position” in respectful if impassioned dialogue.

Men have died because others were unable to interpret their silence as ‘consent’ or as opposition….and silence is a deliberate choice of communicating needing no verbiage, no time, and with no apparent consequences such as negligence or accountability, and certainly not transparency. It will almost never be part of the construction and gardening of healthy relationships.


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