Lately, I have been reading a very interesting and touching book titled: Loving Each Other: The Challenge of Human Relationships, written by Leo Buscaglia in 1984. Here is an excerpt. Please note that I will be posting more from this book in the coming few days.
“We have developed communications systems to
permit man on earth to talk with man on the moon.
Yet mother often cannot talk with daughter, father to
son, black to white, labor with management or
democracy with communism.” HADLEY READ
“Communication, the art of talking with each other, saying what we feel and mean, saying it clearly, listening to what the other says and making sure that we’re hearing accurately, is by all indication the skill most essential for creating and maintaining loving relationships.
In his Nobel Prize speech in 1950, the great American author William Faulkner said,
I believe that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of man’s puny, inexhaustible, voice still talking.
There is little doubt that Mr. Faulkner was right. The world is full of talk. It seems that most of us are continually, often even in our sleep, engaged in some sort of communicative activity, mainly talking (even if it is to ourselves). We have joy talk, hate talk, fear talk, peace talk, pain talk, guilt talk, hope talk, threat talk, regret talk, esthetic talk, envy talk, spite talk, pure information talk and, among it all, hopefully some love talk. The hope lies, as Mr. Faulkner continued in his speech,
….not simply because man alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because man has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion, sacrifice and endurance.
It is the compassion talk, the sacrifice talk, the commitment talk that though too seldom heard, remains the singularly most valuable stuff of which loving relationships are made.
Several years ago, when I was teaching my Love Class, we decided to attempt an assignment. We agreed to approach those people in our lives whom we valued and loved and express verbally that we “truly loved and appreciated them.” We found that what appeared on the surface to be a simple, natural thing was rather more difficult than what we had imagined. Most of the students were lovingly tongue-tied. They felt ill at ease, awkward, even embarrassed by expressing their love. Several never completed the assignment. When we discussed and shared our experiences we agreed that it was strange indeed that so many found it threatening to communicate love! It then became obvious why we hear the voice of love so seldom and when it is heard it is spoken so softly, so shyly. This is true even though we have learned that unexpressed love is the greatest cause of our sorrow and regrets. We usually wait until people have died to express their value in our lives, to honor them publicly and to express our love for them.
As I have shared so many times before, I was fortunate to have been raised in a family where one heard a great deal of love talk. It was not always soft, sweet, and gentle, and what one expects to hear. Mama talked loudly. In fact, she often shouted. She had not read the psychological sage’s advice, “Don’t ever shout or strike your children. Verbal and physical wounds may scar, forever.” I heard verbal threats such as, “te spacco la faccia,” which translates freely, “I’ll smash your face!”Which, I must admit, she did on occasion. In fact, I have a broken front tooth to attest to the fact. Her favorite American expression (I’ve never understood why or where she picked it up), was, “Shut up!” Papa wasn’t afraid that a good smack would permanently wound our psyches, either. He didn’t know nor care a damn about psyches. He and Mama had values which they wanted us to share. Somehow, we never questioned that these were being taught for our “own good.” But this peppery environment was never lacking in more gentle expressions of love as well. Mama never went to the Grand Central Market without bringing us all a bit of chocolate, or a favorite cookie or piece of fruit. Papa and Mama always hugged us “hello,” “good night,” and “good morning.” They kissed us often, during the day and into the night. Wounds heal quickly when one knows unquestionably that love is there.
In love they shared God for our soul, schools and conversation for our minds, and delicious foods for our bodies. Mama also insisted upon a loving yearly physical “spring cleaning” — a fasting period accompanied by Citrate of Magnesia! Our reward was priority for the day in bathroom use (always crowded beyond belief being the only bathroom for our large family!) and the promise of our favorite meal the following day. No matter what our age we all were assured a vital role as a participant in the family. We were encouraged to talk about our joys, hurts, fears, disappointments and loves. When we had a problem it was a family problem to which we were all expected to offer verbal solutions. We were heard and what we said was respected. In this environment, life’s lessons, rightly or wrongly deserved, were easy to tolerate.
One of the greatest complaints among the young today is that though they are given so much in terms of objects, money, and physical comforts, they feel deprived of close communication. They miss the type of talk which helps them to hear their own voices, discover their own resources, make their own mistakes and seek their own solutions in a supporting environment. They often feel that true communication between themselves and those they love is, if offered at all, of limited value.
A sensitive student of mine came to see me regarding a very personal problem. When I suggested that she discuss this with her parents she told me she never could, that they would never understand. I persuaded her to “give it a chance” because her problem would require family support. She returned several days later to report that she had sincerely tried but even when she confessed to her confusion and despondence, they minimized it and changed the subject, assuring her that she was “making a mountain of a molehill,” that “she’d outgrow it,” etc. They actually refused to discuss it, as if to ignore it would make it go away. It was only after a suicide attempt on her part that her parents reacted. “Why didn’t you tell us you were having problems?” they asked! “Why didn’t you listen when I did?” she said simply.
Eric Berne, the author noted for his work in transactional analysis, was concerned with bringing people together again in intimacy. He showed us how the many roles and games we played were breaking down communication, distancing us from each other and destroying any possibility of our becoming intimate with caring friends or lovers. He concerned himself with four questions — so vital in the communication process:
How do you say “hello”?
How do we say “hello” back?
What do we say after we say “hello”?
And, most of all, what is everybody doing instead of saying “hello”?
My concern will further complicate matters for I want to better understand the communication of love. My questions will add an element of complexity and daring, going beyond “hello.” I’m concerned with:
How do you say “I love you” and why is it so very difficult to say such a positive statement?
How do you say “I love you” back without intimidation or fear?
What do we say after we’ve said “I love you”?
How do we keep the loving communication flowing?
And, most of all — what is everyone doing instead of saying “I love you”?
It is a known fact among those who study communication that most of the time we are talking to ourselves. Not only are we often not clear about what we want to communicate, but we lack the linguistic facility to put it into some sane semantic structure. Even when we do, the listener is often uninterested, unwilling or unable to “translate” the intellectual and emotional content of what is said. Communication becomes no more, then, than air in vibration.
The fine art of conversation, too, has all but disappeared. Cocktail parties and large dinner gatherings are conducive mostly to noisy, insignificant dialogue. Family dinners, which in the past offered us a time to share and talk have become little more than a ritual to be accomplished, leading to the dash for the television set, the evening’s entertainment or the privacy of our separate rooms.
Lois Wyse, in her very special book of poems called Lovetalk, puts it most dramatically. She says —
So many television marriages –
that playing out of lives against a
background of the tube.
Instead of two lives filling the room,
There are their two lives and the eleven o’clock news with
Constant commercial interruption.
Instead of what you say and what I say
It is what Dick and Johnny and their guests say. You don’t laugh with me;
I don’t laugh with you.
All the wit comes pouring out of the tube.
And we laugh at it together.
The more we avoid talking
the more passive the relationship becomes.
Television permits us to walk through life
with minor speaking parts.
And the more we fail to speak,
The more difficult speaking becomes.”
The entire text is by: Leo Buscaglia, “Loving Each Other through Communication” in Loving Each Other: The Challenge of Human Relationships, 1984, 52-59.