Conversations are beautiful if they’re earnest. And by earnestness, I don’t mean purity or honesty of the subject matter. I am talking of the sincerity to hear and tell, most importantly to hear. In the last couple of weeks, I have found myself at social gatherings and work meetings where everyone’s been talking, but none have been listening. And time and again, when we’ve left the room I have questioned the very motive of us getting together; this, when most of us are in the business of communication. I am reminded of my first lecture at the university, where I studied Mass Communication. The first question put to us was — what is communication? The answer suggested it required two elements — sending and receiving. Whilst, the two elements still exist, the earnestness in receiving is surely missing.
When did we stop listening or rather talking over each other? Perhaps, like most other things, we can blame this on technology too. Or is it a lack of time? Or is it to do with the fact that we have too much to share/do and too little time in hand? Irrespective of the reason, my observations and conversations have convinced me this is not the kind of chaos, where we can aspire to find method in the madness.
Look around. At coffee shops, we meet a friend or a work associate over a Mocha Latte only to check WhatsApp messages as we engage in a chat. At work, we sit down in a conference room, only to talk over each other (in a louder voice) to reach a conclusion or prove a point. At home, we sit down at the dining table, only to attend a phone call in between. On a friends’ night out, we express interest to know what’s happening in the life of the other, only to cut short her/him to tell us what’s happening in ours. We willingly ask for an opinion/suggestion of the other and are too quick to disregard the same.
Perhaps, the listener knows better than me or has other important things to attend. Perhaps, we have lost the art of ‘agree to disagree’ or we’ve come to believe that badgering is the way out of work situations. Perhaps, we’re confusing listening to just another element of our lives that are now governed by the motto of multitasking. We’re all guilty of replying to e-mails as we talk on the landline or replying to a chat as we feed our children or doing dishes as our partner shares how his/her day was.
It is worrisome, but we’ve accepted pure disrespect towards not just the opinions of each other, but also the mere words of the other as a new definition of 'conversation'. It’s not two-sided anymore. Why else would someone invite us over for a cup of tea and then have no time to consume it with us? Why else would we put someone on a podium to speak and then stare into our screens or talk amongst ourselves? Why else would we nod when we missed hearing the other?
Interestingly, the dictionary has a word for this emotion that we are now feeling, but failing to express. It’s called anecdoche, a conversation in which everyone is talking, but nobody is listening.
For me, anecdoche is the word that best describes the times we are in. As for what is slowly happening to us as we stop listening? I am afraid to find out.