Because We Must

By Cyberquill 03/04/20144 Comments


We cannot not communicate.

There is no such thing as “keeping to ourselves.”

No matter how hard we may try to conceal what goes on inside of us, it will out one way or another. (This fact completes the triad of certainties in life, death and taxes being the other two.)

To communicate is like playing whack-a-mole: the instant we flatten with our mallet the mole hill over here, it will spring up over there; as soon as we flatten that one, it’ll crop up at a different location, and so on and so forth.

As long as we’ve got a mole in our yard, the question is not whether but where the pesky critter will build its hill.

And as long as we feel a certain way about certain things—i.e., as long as we’re alive—the question is not whether but how we will flag those feelings.

Because we cannot not communicate them. It’s impossible. Just as a shark cannot stop moving.

All we can do is shutter specific channels of communication, in which case our internal goings-on will divert to different ones and reveal themselves through those.

For instance, we can make a conscious decision to refrain from using words. We can resolve, for whatever reason, to “not say anything.” What happens then is that our demeanor takes over, and we’ll say it nonetheless, albeit non-verbally.

Because we cannot not say it, at least not for very long.

And, of course, we want to say it.

Recall the scene from A Few Good Men where the Tom Cruise character explains why he thinks he can get Colonel Jessep to “just say it” that he (Jessep) had, in fact, ordered an illegal “code red”:

I think he wants to say it. I think he’s pissed off that he’s gotta hide from this. I think he wants to say that he made a command decision and that’s the end of it.

In a sense, honesty is like breathing. We can hold our breath for a while, but eventually we must allow some air into our lungs. We can pretend and dissemble to some extent, but we cannot keep vanquishing the urge to make known in some fashion, no matter how cryptically, that we are, in fact, pretending and dissembling.

The degree of encryption, which determines how easily and accurately our communiqués will be deciphered by our environs, hinges on our chosen mode of communication.

Silence, for example, speaks just as loudly as words but is much trickier to interpret correctly due to its being an encrypted form of speaking. If someone never returns our calls, that person is sending us a message—but what does the message say? If our date just sits there all evening quietly biting her nails while staring at the wall, she’s communicating—but communicating what exactly? And why doesn’t she just say it outright? (For a hilarious illustration, click here.)

Oftentimes, alas, prudence dictates that we sublimate, i.e., garble our messages so as to guard against painful repercussions for our unvarnished frankness. Since we cannot not send our messages lest we implode, we must deliver them in code.

Either way, they will be delivered somehow, readily decipherable or otherwise.

Suicide, of course, constitutes the ultimate form of communication, to which a person will resort when he or she, rightly or wrongly, believes that all other avenues for expression have become hopelessly roadblocked and the anguish of suffocation has thus turned unbearable.

Carl Jung once said that “loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.”

Riffing on this Jungian theme, I posit that our degree of unhappiness and discomfort in a given environment is directly proportional to the degree to which we feel circumscribed in our ability to “just say it,” whatever that “it” may be, and we therefore—since we cannot not communicate—must employ indirect (= encrypted) means of conveying that which we wish we could just articulate in a straightforward manner.

The other day, I witnessed someone become fairly upset over another person’s belated confession that he didn’t fancy potatoes prepared in a certain way, the potatoes in question already having been prepared in the very manner he had just announced to not care for.

The exercised party sighed, “Why can’t people just say it when they don’t like something?”

She obviously meant that human relationships would be so much more harmonious, and hence life so much easier, if everyone were perfectly open and upfront about their preferences and dislikes—that is, about how they really felt—right out of the gate, as opposed to either not at all or but reluctantly after they’ve held their tongues for God knows how long.

Point-blank candor sounds like an admirable notion for sure—so then why might we still elect to clam up and take a more covert and abstruse passive-aggressive path of communication in lieu of using plain and simple language to convey how we feel?

First, if if we have grounds to anticipate that what we wish to say won’t go over too well with our audience, chances are we’ll hesitate to just come out and say it directly. We generally don’t look forward to getting our heads ripped off in response to having uttered what others don’t wish to hear.

Also, if there’s a history of our stated feelings and concerns being dismissed as irrational flimflam that has somehow taken root in our heads and that we may want to see a psychoanalyst about (“You know what your problem is?”), our willingness to speak candidly will likely have eroded over time. (Indeed, one of the most effective strategies for getting others to desist from overt communication is to invalidate their thoughts and feelings, which comes down to invalidating them, as people tend to identify rather strongly with their thoughts and emotions. In a way, we are what we think and feel.)

Second, if we are bothered by certain aspects of our surroundings that form an integral component thereof and hence are unlikely to change, why waste our breath and risk acquiring a reputation of being compulsive whiners and blamers? Who wants to be reminded all the time that “the door is over there”? We know where the door is. If we thought cutting out were an option, that fading cloud on the horizon would be us.

Third, if the people we’re surrounded by treat us well, we will likely wish to avoid hurting their feelings or coming across as ungrateful. After all, enlightened beings that we are, we’ve embraced the concept that it is better to be kind than to be right—or brutally honest and overt, for that matter.

Ergo, in some respect, it is easier to put up with abusive ruffians, because not only do we know they’re wrong, but our inhibition threshold when it comes to speaking our minds to their faces resides much lower than when dealing with caring individuals that mean well. The less love is lost between us and others, the less constrained we feel by considerations of kindness in disclosing potentially upsetting information head-on.

Whatever the reasons for why we feel we can’t “just say it,” since we cannot not communicate—and since the drive to let on ultimately resides up there with food and sex—we’ll communicate in some recondite manner that will leave our environment guessing as to what’s eating us.

But we always tell.


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  • Richard

    Restraint requires considerable courage. Wars start for lack of it. There is a proper place for tact, diplomacy and the “stiff upper lip”.

    Irrational, impulsive behaviour is regressive. More often than not, it is regretted by the perpetrator. Misguided encouragement stems from a grave distortion of the process of psychoanalysis.

    Too often we see civilised debate descend into agressive, emotional mudslinging because of a participant’s determination to express his feelings and “anger”. Very often he does not have any such feelings at all and it is all show. That is when we observe the dissassembling to which you refer. We also react kindly to someone who seeks, through care, to avoid unnecessary conflict by martialling his feelings and thoughts.

    Doubtless there are times when wrongdoers mask there true intentions by falsely adopting an air of reason and good will, but these are rare.

    A readiness to allow ill-founded, often temporary, feelings a validity is a principal reason for the breakdown of long-term mutual understanding -- the sort of understanding which endeavours to tolerate lapses into primitive conduct.

    • Cyberquill

      Restraint may require courage and be eminently desirable. All I’m saying is that the emotions we carry around with us will express themselves one way or another.

      In the case of negative emotions (anger, etc.), since we cannot keep them in, the trick is to channel them into something positive, like turning lead into gold.

  • Richard

    Sorry dissemble. Hope that didn’t rile you too much.

    • Cyberquill

      I’m exercising restraint. Earning points for my Distinguished Conduct Medal.

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