Perhaps it’s because we’ve become accustomed to shouting out our thoughts, opinions, disappointments, or perspectives into the big wide ether known as the Internet, but while we’ve focused ourselves on the science of communication, we’ve lost the art.
As a self-professed word nerd whose heaven probably looks like the carbon copy of Dublin’s Trinity Library, I myself am guilty of rocking through words like Bezos rocks through razors for his hair.
I say “awesome” or “fantastic” to adults who are simply doing their jobs and have no need for a cheerleader. I say “thank you” probably too much, especially when dining out, because I know how hard it is to smile when your feet hurt. When I first started reading woman-inspired literature, a veil had lifted and I was suddenly more self-aware of how I behaved in a corporate setting than ever before. Women are more likely to use the ever-blameless “we”, and we say how we “feel” rather than we “know”.
When were our words discounted? When have we discounted our words?
Before you blame it on the binary zeros and ones of the Internet age, I’d caution you – we were discounting ourselves long before garage men became cultural gods. Yet as a culture, you have to wonder – where do we go from here? The world seems so divided into a million pieces; first world vs. third world, those with vaccines and those without; Democrats or Republicans, Conservatives vs. Labour, government vs. the people….
I’d like to argue that a lot (not all, mind you) but a lot of our communicative woes can be solved with a huge serving of self-awareness, with a dash of re-learning the art of communication. I start with self-awareness because of this one question: When were you last aware of identifying the subject, object, and verb in your last spoken or typed sentence?
One of the best things about being bilingual is the new perspective you gain in your mother tongue. I walk my clients through icky grammar practices like verb conjugations and sentence mapping in Spanish, which in turn makes me think about verb conjugations and sentence mapping in English. As so it happens, learning a language is a huge exercise in self-awareness (How’s my inflection? How’s my accent? How’s my volume and cadence?) but also helps you be more aware of the words you choose to use in your native tongue.
And here we have it: the words you choose to use. Language is an extraordinary beast, with at least five ways to say anything we’d like to each other – yet we get so stuck in our brain and muscle memory of common phrases “per my last email”; “table this for discussion” and so many more; we forget that there’s an absolute variety of verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs out there. This can help prevent a rushed reply from seeming curt or allow you to ask for gentle feedback on something you’re nervous about.
Perhaps this new age of communication can save relationships or strengthen connections, into all of us diving into our self-contained frenzy of urgency and “sorry for the late reply” when replying to an email 45 minutes after it was sent. We all learned the adage, “if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all”, but what if instead, we learned, “if you can’t say something nice, refocus yourself and find something positive”? Perhaps this whole “lost art of communication” I referenced before wasn’t a lost art at all, but a scavenger hunt, or an exercise in mental gumption?
Reframing a problem to make it a challenge is one of my new favorite things, and sometimes, reframing a statement into a question (or vice-versa) can be equally as hard. No one knows the answers – but perhaps, if we truly connected a bit more with each other on a human-to-human level instead of a transitive cog-level, we could actually feel a spark. A spark of something new to come, all because we used our brains to think and communicate exactly what we wanted: we intentionally connected with each other.