This is the basis of the talk I gave at the Wake Up Festival in Ibiza on Tuesday June 16th.
We’ve got so much information in our hands and at our disposal and yet we are removed from each other. Dis-connected. The luminescent mobile phone and iPad / tablet glow illuminates the faces of couples kissing in the street to those of people eating in restaurants and partying in clubs. It colours our chill time with the family, our concerts, football matches and hospital visits. Even our relationships start and end with a text, whatsapp IM, Skype or email. Anyone who has ever dumped someone or been dumped by someone by text or email (like me) will confirm that it was not the best way or day of their life. Further statistics reveal that we spend 11 of our lifetime years in front of the TV, yet no statistics show how much of that time is spent talking over it? As for Gogglebox? This is not communication.
The mathematical genius Stephen Hawking has a computer synthesized voice box and for many who can’t communicate in the expected way, systems are in place – sign language – to replace and match the power of speech. It is clearly good to talk.
Still, we spend 23 days per year on our phones, 20 weeks of our life on hold to customer services (60 hours per year listening to the muzak – Zero 7 Simple Things with Barclays, and the in flight boarding selection with Vueling are my personal favourites). We spend four years of our lives on the phone at work (not including freelance workers / home based work calls) and even when communication is prohibited or impeded (work, governmental black outs / societal blocks) people tweet, post statuses, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitvid, Vimeo and Vine like crazy just to get some sort of message across.
Look around you. We, humans, are superheroes. Why? Because speech is a super power. It is one of the key development stages next to movement. We only have to observe a parents’ joy in hearing a baby’s first words to know how important this is. Speech, as such, has an important function in defining who we are and our perception of the world. It expresses our needs and desires. It is easy to make our voices heard and presence felt, even in an unfamiliar space, when we only have to open our mouths and let the feelings flood out. Having this right to do so is a gift and a blessing that many fight daily to gain or to preserve.
How many of you remember your school reports? What did they say? If you are anything like me it went something like this:
PAULETTE IS AN EXCELLENT STUDENT AND AN ASSET TO THE CLASS BUT SHE TALKS TOO MUCH AND CAN BE DISRUPTIVE TO OTHERS.
In my experience such a blatant appropriation and prohibition of my power of speech had far reaching effects. I internalised all the ‘talks too much’ criticism given at school and at home and suffered constant throat problems through school on into my work life. As soon as I got stressed or felt an injustice that could not be articulated I lost my voice. I saw specialists but none could get to or heal the physical root of the problem. Instinctively I kept a ton of diaries just to provide an outlet for all the words that had built and stacked up inside me like a bubbling volcano of frustration and anger. It manifested itself in other ways too, for a time I was given a bad rep for having a short fuse at work. This was counter productive, caused countless flash points and took a lot of internal work and soul-searching to remove the energetic blocks and correct.
In my opinion this control further manifests itself today in society’s preference for a soundbite over a long chat and the perversion of socio-political ideologies like ‘freedom of speech’ ‘democracy’. It’s ‘speak how we tell you to speak’ and ‘speak when you’re spoken to’ all rolled into one. At its best it’s about containing a rowdy class, at its worst it’s about control and enticing us to live in self-enforced, isolated bubbles and we should be aware and more than a little wary of this. Like Elvis ‘all I want is a little more conversation’ and a lot more balance. The fine tuning of our listening ears and the teaching of the value of silence is also welcomed.
I recommend that you learn to USE YOUR VOICE – ask for help, express your opinions but remember to do this with HONESTY, AUTHENTICITY (be yourself), INTEGRITY (do what you say – you’ve got to walk the walk AND talk the talk) AND most importantly do it with LOVE. As an example, recently Izzy Cornthwaite – an eight year old Star Wars fan – took Disney to task over advertising that their Darth Vader costume was for boys. She wrote in arguing that the costume is for girls too. Disney have now changed the classification of ALL their toys to become gender non specific. Respect to Izzy! All Disney costumes and toys are now ‘for kids’.
This is a lesson to all – use your voice, don’t hold back. Don’t be shy. Change really can start with one person. As adults, communication is the key to all our relationships – work, professional, personal, social. If you are conversing or involved with someone who won’t let you speak or won’t listen to you – if you realise that you can’t fully have your say with them, you must reclaim your power and your happiness for yourself. Be pro-active, be genuine, be honest. No matter how important that connection might be, make sure that you put your message across first and foremost because you love yourself and everything around you, no matter if that means that you must eventually let go of the thing that is preventing you from doing this.
Be curious, be serious and ask endless questions, even if this means only finding answers to a few. I encourage you to have opinions and to make all of that felt without falling into the trap of the 7 deadly sins against healthy communication.
- GOSSIPING – encouraged by newspapers, social networks, garden fence standers – this behaviour says more about the person doing the gossiping than the subject itself.
- JUDGING – unless you’re officially employed to wear a whitish-grey horsehair wig, always consider ‘what makes me so right?’ before judging anyone.
- NEGATIVITY – limit your contact with the kind of people who reduce nice days or a nice party to gloomy, stressful, ‘hard work’ situations whilst littering their sentences with the drastic ‘always’ ‘never’ ‘doesn’t’ ‘couldn’t’
- COMPLAINING –– apparently 5 months of our lives are spent doing this. Why not claw those 5 months back from the jaws of disaster and do something more constructive with that time.
- EXCUSES – if it’s always someone else’s fault, it’s time to start taking responsibility for one’s actions
- EMBROIDERY / EXAGGERATION – aside from the light poetic license required by story-telling try to avoid over-egging your speech with fabricated, exaggerated details that don’t exist, didn’t happen and are only there for dramatic effect.
- LYING – passing one’s personal opinions off as facts is a definite no-no.
The good news is that these sins are easily counteracted by THINK-ing before we speak.
- Is it THOUGHTFUL – would I like to hear it said about me?
- Is it HELPFUL – reach out, assist & empower people
- Is it INSPIRING – how do I make people feel when they are near me and when they hear me?
- Is it NECESSARY – avoid gossip, exaggeration, lies, trivia.
- Is it KIND – remember we are all the same, living parrallel lives, standing our corners, fighting our own battles. Be as gentle and empathetic as possible. This does not mean being generally obsequious or ‘sucking up’ – everyone can see through a creep but someone giving a genuine compliment is gold. So say it sincerely or not at all and like Bambi’s mother said ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t (especially if its wise not to) say anything at all’
We are taught to speak more than to listen yet conversation must be a two-way street (although some would prefer it otherwise). In order to make and get the best out of conversation, I advocate conscious listening on both sides.
What do I mean by conscious listening? I mean giving the person the time, the eye contact, the interest, the space and the attention required and giving ourselves the breathing / understanding space to receive and appreciate everything they are saying. For sure this can be difficult in noisy offices, public spaces, outdoor, sports, club or festival situations (we all know existential conversations and dance floors don’t mix and full belt arguments in shopping centres are like taking a wrecking ball to a stud wall) so if you need to talk, when you need that talk, simply pick your time and place carefully. Steer clear of the kind of fortune telling that anticipates someone’s response before they have had time to think it and please call a serious ‘time out’ on over-talking. Shouting louder to drown out an opinion you don’t want to hear or to prove your point over all others makes you more wrong than right. And try not to mute someone’s involvement in the conversation and render them deaf to yours by finishing their sentences with your ideas – when you’ve had your say let them have theirs.
If we can change the way we talk, we can change the way we think and I am optimistic that it is this simple shift in perspective that can change things, one word at a time. Positive words give positive results. And a listening ear hears the valuable information that is all so often missed by the overbearing ego of others.
When our thoughts are silent, our body talks, so we need to manage that language carefully too. Try not to give mixed messages: leave insincere smiles, half way greetings, darting-eyed air kisses, the rude ‘I have no time to chit chat’ chat, the ‘I’m too busy to speak’ phone call and the ‘I’m leaving in a second’ all night club stay, out of your interactions with others. All of these negatively affect the quality of our communication, diminish trust and lower morale at the speed of light.
Make best efforts to keep your subject matter in check. All too often our conversation focuses on what’s wrong in the world. I suggest that we change our viewpoint and try more to acknowledge what’s right in the world, what’s right around us, what’s right with us and with everyone we meet. If it’s a grim day look for rainbows. Let your first thought of every day be thank you, express gratitude, try to compliment yourself in the mirror. Treat yourself with the same amount of verbal respect as you treat your best friend. Silence your inner critic. Tell people what they mean to you, speak to people in the street not just people you have on speed dial – keep your options and connections open. Encourage openness, encourage people to communicate, call your mother, father, sister, brother. Write to your MP if you feel so moved. Be the change that you want to see in the world.
Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist, cosmologist, CBE) is quoted as saying: “Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”