Table of Contents
Why We Talk?
Recently I lost a friend. Actually, he was he was a friend of a friend’s son, and I had not even met him, not even by zoom. Email only.
But I cherished Josh (not his real name) because he was of a different political persuasion than almost everyone I know. Plus, he seemed to enjoy helping me to see things about our world and the people in it that he could tell I did not see myself.
Josh would send me articles to help me to understand what I had no other way to understand, unless I watched that other station, which I did not want to do.
What if someone saw me? People do ask me what news station I watch. People ask people what station they watch routinely as shorthand for “Are you in my tribe or not?”
I have this going on with friends on the far right and left. One beloved woman I have known for years puts up with my incessant inquiries, challenges, and assertions, I am hoping not just because we have known each other for years but because maybe she learns a little something from me too.
Or is it something to do with the world feeling a bit safer when we are connected to that which might scare the bejeebies out of us.
I think that’s what it is for me. I’m not exactly trying to persuade anyone not to see what they see. I just feel safer if they can add into the mix more of what there is to see than meets their own eyes.
Talking is complicated. And, considering the scientific finding that less than 2% of conversations end when we want them to, I figure I am not the only one who, despite my good intentions, may simply talk too much.
So, let’s look at some excerpts from an earlier post on how and why we humans started to talk at all.
History of Talk
In Evolution and Human Behavior, John Cartwright tells us that the first talker could have been Homo habilis, 2 million years ago or Homo erectus, 1 million years ago. You may also click here for no less than 200 references on the origins of language. But here is what matters for our purposes.
To be sure, talking is a social plus, and one that has helped us to survive and to thrive all along, likely for millions of years. How else would we suppose that our ancestors could negotiate who gets to eat how much and what cut of the meat from the hunt? How else would they have been able to make deals, detect cheaters, alert each other to danger, and the like.
Well why couldn’t they just do it with the wave of a hand or a point of the finger, “Food over here…ferocious beast over there”?
Because it didn’t work in the dark for one thing and, even if it was light out, then we had to be looking at each other all the time, just in case someone decided to ‘say’ something, instead of either resting our eyes or using them to scan outward for food, danger, or sex opportunities….
So by putting the tongue to work, hands could do all kinds of great things, like carrying babies, using tools….
But not all speech is as overtly purposeful as that. Some of it is just for… you know…bonding. Not to minimize bonding, we’d be nowhere as a species without bonding, but here’s where the drivel comes in.
“Talking is a social lubricant, not necessarily done to convey information, but to establish familiarity…. these vocalizations are equivalent to the chitchat that we do. People think that conversations are like exchanging mini-lectures full of information. But most of the time we have conversations and forget them when we’re done because they’re performing a purely social function.”
That’s a relief in a way, isn’t it? Trouble is that the chitchat can be mindless and when we are talking just to talk it doesn’t always come out right.
In fact, studies have shown American civility to be on the decline. As only one example, 25% of Americans reported using the f-word every day, up 10 points over the last 10 years.
And something tells me our uncivilized polarizing discourse is only going to get worse. So what can we do? Well, we can learn how to master our mouths.
Mastering Your Mouth
Mastering Your Mouth is a chapter title in my book, Getting to G.R.E.A.T.
In short for here and now, the most useful guidance I have ever heard for getting a grip on too much talking is: True, Kind, Necessary and Beneficial. And, ideally, our speech would meet the test of all 4.
For example, talk that is true, might not be kind, nor necessary and beneficial at all. Sometimes we talk just to assert our existence. Again from the earlier post:
For some people, it goes something like this: I Talk Therefore I am. Why not just: I Breathe Therefore I Am. If all that is needed is reassurance that one exists, breathing should be enough.
Breathing is true, kind, beneficial, and necessary. But breathing doesn’t tell us that we are really amazing and that the whole rest of the world knows it. Anyone can breathe.
But impressing the world, just by making these amazing words come out of the mouth, well now we’re talking. Only no one is listening, more than likely not even the talker, when the talking has taken on a life of its own with no redeeming social value to it.
So, especially in these highly charged times, threatening to become even more so, let’s just think before we talk. Is it true, kind, necessary, beneficial? Is it going to help us to help each other or pull us more and more apart.
And if there really is no useful purpose to what the tongue is about to do — as if the tongue is in charge of us instead of the other way around — let’s just breathe instead so at least we do no harm.
Practice, Practice, Practice…see what happens, and for help with this or something else, Contact Me at Madelaine Weiss.
Photo by Freepik