You have the right to remain silent. Ah, but we don’t, do we? We are compelled to talk, to relate, to narrate, to dictate, to gossip, to speculate, to whisper and shout and share. Even those of us who say we don’t, do. How can we not? Even if we don’t talk out loud, the words come out in other ways – we write, we ‘chat’, we tweet, we sing, we chunter, we rant and rage or whine and whimper. We talk to ourselves. We talk in our sleep.
And last night I read this passage (from Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marias) and it made me smile.
‘If you stop each night to think about what has been told or recounted to you during the day by the many or few people with whom you have spoken…you will see how rare it is ever to hear anything of real value or interest or discernment… Almost everything that everyone says and communicates is humbug or padding superfluous, commonplace, dull, interchangeable and trite, however much we feel it to be ‘ours’ and however much people ‘feel the need to express themselves’… Talking is probably the biggest waste of time amongst the population as a whole, regardless of age, sex, class, wealth or knowledge, it is a wastage par excellence. ‘ [Itals my own.]
Yet still it seems we need to talk. And mainly we need to talk about ourselves. Rare are the listeners; even rarer are the askers of questions. I remember once, years back, talking to this guy, a friend’s boyfriend. Or rather he talked, and talked and talked and talked. And it became a game. How long could we go on with him not asking me one single question. Answer? Four hours. Yup, I gave him the occasional prompt and off he went. I should have charged him – shrink's rates. J
Is listening a skill? It certainly helped me become a relatively successful journalist. Some might say it makes me a good friend. The key is really to listen – not just to pretend while waiting impatiently to add your own anecdote or feeling. Most people play verbal ping pong. But then again, listening can be a defence mechanism – being a good listener is a great way to avoid talking. And I feel uncomfortable talking about myself. Because, really, what is there to say? Who cares about my opinions? I don't even care about my opinions that much. What business is it of mine what other people do, say; how they behave? If my words can help or soothe in any way, then they’re worth it. But they’re just words. What use are they, really? If, instead of offering words, I could wipe away pain and sickness; if I could take away sadness and indifference; if I could write large cheques and bestow largesse, then that might be worthwhile, huh? But I’m helpless – so I offer words.
Anyhow. See…even I (who love silence) am not immune. I spew out words on this blog. It’s one way of talking without being interrupted (*smile*). Of course you don’t have to listen; nobody does. That is the really good thing about this kind of verbiage – it’s easily switched off. J
Why do we talk? Obviously it is useful – on a practical and evolutionary level. But why do we feel the need to express ourselves? Why do we need to be heard, to be understood? Is it ego? Is it all just ego? I did a cursory search online to find out ‘why people talk’ but drew a blank – or rather I drew an awful lot of people…talking and not listening. J
What do I think? What do I know? Don’t you love the ambiguity of that phrase? Let me italicise the I to add some emphasis, to make the nuance clear. What do I know? I guess sometimes we talk purely for comfort – against the cold, against the sheer nothingless, against oblivion. Chitchat, the murmuring of words, shared laughter, the everyday, the inanity even, soothes like a warm bath, like the burn of brandy down the throat. We know that ultimately we’re all alone but talking, with the right people, those who we feel *get* us, dispels the cold - just for a little while. It’s like an inferior form of holding.
And not everything is dross or commonplace or trite. Sometimes someone says something that stops you in your tracks. That makes you go ‘Oh’ and then sometimes ‘yes’. And not just because you have the urge to go ‘Oh yes, me too,’ and then launch into your own anecdote or diatribe, but because it makes you want to go away and ponder quietly. And I guess that’s why I don’t vanish into silence entirely. And I guess that’s why I continue chuntering into the void because, every so often, someone says something in response to my inanity that …chimes.
Anyhow. How about you? Talker? Listener? Any idea why we, as a species, have the talk urge?