The Herald Bulletin

January 15, 2014

Primus Mootry: Can we talk?

The Herald Bulletin

---- — People don’t talk much anymore. I’m really not sure if they ever did. By “talk” I mean communicate, not simply sounding out words that may or may not express a complete thought.

Communication is a process — a meaningful conversation — that requires both a listener and a speaker. It’s a two-way deal based on open-mindedness, sincerity and honest responses. If either speaker or listener is not paying full attention, the process is at best diminished, at worst, just gibberish.

As I have observed in previous articles, it is sadly ironic that in this great Age of Information there is so little communication. We talk at each other, to each other, but not with one another. We seem more interested in knowing the right answers than in posing the right questions.

There are many people who pride themselves on knowing the answer to just about any question, even if they don’t have a clue. The main problem with this is that, if you know everything, you can’t learn anything. By consequence, people like this don’t get any smarter. They are talking to themselves.

And so, if what I’m saying here has merit, why is it so? Why is it that some of us feel compelled to know the answer to everything? Why can’t we talk? What is it that gets in the way of our ability to hold a meaningful conversation?

I think part of the answer is arrogance. There are those who feel that if they do not know the answers, they won’t look very bright. To those poor souls, I would remind them of something I think humorist Mark Twain once said: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Another possibility is that, from a very early age, we are taught not to ask questions. When I was a child, the common wisdom was that children are to be seen, not heard. Questioning adults was a no-no. So I believe most children, in my generation at the least, were discouraged from asking questions, especially irritating ones like “where do babies come from?”

Aside from the culture of children being seen and not heard, for some time, as a matter if science, it was believed that children were born as either blank slates or empty vessels. This meant they knew absolutely nothing until nurturing adults either “wrote” something on their blank little minds or filled their empty vessel brains with knowledge.

Fortunately, geneticists have uncovered a great deal of evidence against this “scientific” silliness. As we now know, children come into this world riding strands of DNA that carry all sorts of vital emotional, intellectual, and personal identity information. Also, as suggested earlier, little children are full of wonder, full of questions. They need to be heard.

I believe the be-seen-and-not-heard practice spills over into all facets of adult life. The corporate, governmental and social structures that govern behavior in our society are top-down structures. In other words, there is a small group of people at the top who determine what happens to the far larger numbers at the bottom.

In the real world, what this means is that workers seldom challenge their bosses. They do as they are told. Patients seldom challenge doctors or other health care professionals. They do as they are told, and take whatever medicine may be prescribed for them. Political and governmental leaders often say some of the dumbest things and never get voted out of office. There is no conversation.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, computer-driven technologies that are intended to enhance our ability to communicate seem to be having the opposite effect. We talk to machines. How about those endless directories you get when you call some company? And what about the computer voice that tells you who is calling you but can’t pronounce the words.

Hey, let’s not forget those dreaded robo-calls? I would much prefer talking to a real human being. But that is something that’s becoming all too rare. Do you suppose these calls are intended to help us communicate with whatever company or group may be behind them? How did they get my phone number? I don’t know.

I don’t know. Now there are three perfectly good words I wish people would use more often. If we don’t know, we have a place to begin. If we know everything, we have no place to go. Can we talk?

Have a nice day.

Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.