My wife and I do not talk to each other enough, and it is clearly my fault. My job-performance evaluation sheet certifies annually: analytic skills, generally good; writing skills, okay; oral expression, rare and/or obscure. The latter sometimes bears a notation like "must have taken lessons from Jimmy Stewart," or "does not engage his mouth if operating a machine or at important meetings."
Our society's oral fixation permeates so thoroughly that those of us who fail to communicate well, in tongues, are continually harangued and belittled, regardless of our other attributes.
The wave of new books on effective communication with your spouse, boss, and/or mother-in-law usually contains a paragraph of such tidbits, implying that if everyone does not bare his or her soul on every aspect of life or work, we're all in deep trouble.
I can see the emphasis on verbiage in my sons' relative progress in school. The one who loves to talk, despite his lisp, is inexplicably considered material for the G and T program. (I thought initially this was an acronym for "good and talkative," but later learned it stood for gifted and talented.) My other son will soon pass puberty without having uttered a sentence containing more than three syllables to anyone over the age of 21. His approach to schoolwork and his teachers' approach to him are equally distant.
It is time, in this age of inward enlightenment, to put an end to the myth that there is much point to improving one's communication skills.
Having recently had the ego-crushing experience of listening to a tape recording of myself mumbling and stumbling on the radio, I have decided that humankind was better off when the lid was shut. Here are some other reasons for minimally communicating:
* Nobody dislikes noncommunicators. They are not known well enough for others to have formed an opinion of them.
* The framers of the Constitution must have meant to include, as a sub-element of the guarantee of freedom of speech, the right to remain silent. Similarly, they must have meant to include the right to suppress feelings, which persons who remain silent generally do.
Once, in a particularly verbose moment, I recall wanting to discuss deep thoughts with an acquaintance; she was more interested in what had transpired on TV the previous evening. Suppressing feelings may be sex-linked, but it is not restricted to males.
* What comes out is probably not what you wanted to say. People will misinterpret what you mean, so why waste your breath? This must be the first principle of the teen-ager's parent-effectiveness training program.
* By minimally communicating, you will give people the impression that you are a smarter than you are. Being silent also makes you seem emotionally stable even if you are not, unless of course you resemble Ichabod Crane, or continually avert your eyes, or habitually smirk, in which case there is little hope.
* If you are known not to speak often, people will listen closer to what you say and will attribute significance to your words even if there is none.
* Many conversations consist wholly of repetitious thoughts between the same two or more consenting adults. How do you sustain the interest level? Silence is not deafening. Gibberjabber is.
I do not advocate noncommunication for everyone. Those of us with lethargic tongues, for instance, would make dreary talk-show hosts.
What I seek is the recognition that there is no necessary relationship between being scant of word and sinister of thought, or that we are not universally overburdened with suppressed emotions. Neither quantity of speech, nor delivery, is a substitute for substance.
The question is whether the communicator--great or not--says anything worth listening to.