Yesterday, I posted an excerpt from the book Loving Each Other: The Challenge of Human Relationships, written by Leo Buscaglia in 1984, that I named “communication-Part I“. Here is a second part. I highly recommend reading the parts on dialogue (the monologue, the technical dialogue, the monologue disguised as dialogue and the true dialogue). May all our dialogues be true dialogues.
“How do you say “I love you”?
To a more or less degree all of us have language. Even though there are many theories, no one is certain about how it is learned. We do know that no infants are ever taught formally to talk, but unless they are severely neurologically damaged or mentally retarded, they will acquire language around the age of two. All the world’s children develop language in the same way at the same age. They will babble, go through an initial stage called “echolalia,” will proceed to words, then sentences. This, even though it is one of the most complex of human skills. All they seem to need is a language-filled environment where they can hear the sounds of the language. I will never forget an American lady whom I met while teaching in Taiwan, who stood back in awe and said, “Imagine, two-year-old children in the streets are speaking Chinese!” What did she expect they’d be speaking, Greek?
We know that infants are amazingly attuned to the sounds of language and will learn what they hear. Of all the words they encounter in their first few years, isn’t it amazing that an infant can differentiate “milk,” “me,” “mama”? The words they will hear will be the words they will learn seemingly without reason. These will also be the tools with which they will organize their environment and interact with it. These words will be the essential human connection. If they hear “yes” and “love” and “good” and other positive symbols, then these will be the tools with which they will relate. Our children say “no!” long before they learn “yes” and often “hate” before “love.” Where did the child in preschool who shouts, “I’m having a nervous breakdown!” learn this? Certainly not instinctively.
So we either hear the language of love in our environment or we do not. Either we learn the verbal symbols necessary to relate with each other or we do not.
How Do You Say “I Love You Back”?
After we have acquired language to some degree, how do we keep it growing? How do we use it for informative giving, for nurturing dialogue?
Probably the most common use made of language is for the purpose of imparting information, to inform someone of something, to explain something. The teacher instructs the class clearly, “Always print your name in the upper right-hand corner of your assignments.” Ask teachers how many times papers come back with names on the left-hand side, the middle of the page or not written on the page at all. How often have you asked for black coffee and had the waiter immediately ask, “With cream and sugar?” Having language, obviously, has nothing to do with communication. Communication requires dialogue. Most of us constantly find ourselves engaging in monologues. The great philosopher Martin Buber was very much concerned with human monologue/dialogue. He writes of technical dialogue, the type of communication in which we give information, requiring no feeling, and it is received and acted upon. He then moves on to monologue disguised as dialogue, in which one individual speaks to the total indifference of the other. He illustrates this with what he calls lover’s talk, in which both parties alike often enjoy their own glorious souls and precious experience.
A most amusing example of this is the dialogue between Candide and Cunégonde, the lovers of Voltaire’s philosophical work Candide. Leonard Bernstein set this wistful conversation to music in his great comic opera based upon the Voltaire classic.
Performed operatically as a duet, the pair of lovers together, yet individually, look to the future and voice their fondest hopes and visions.
Candide envisions a little farm for the pair one day replete with chickens, cows, and vegetables.
Cunégonde longs for the luxury of a yacht, the excitement of parties, a luxurious life, and the glamour of jewels.
Each continues on until finally the aria ends with Cunégonde dreaming aloud of traveling the world and enjoying the high life. Candide continues his reveling, dreaming contentedly of a more rustic life.
Returning from their individual dreams, the lovers look at each other, she exclaiming her love of married life; he in perfect harmony, and happy in the knowledge of the rarity of agreement between lovers.
You can imagine how long that relationship lasts!
Buber continues by defining true dialogue. He sees it as one in which the speaker has the other person’s individuality and special needs in mind. He states that in this type of communication “one sees in the passing parade, not a crowd or a mass, but a collection of individuals, each of whom, without exception, can be seen as a person.” Buber wants the major goal of all true dialogue to be the welfare of the loved ones, and the enhancement of their fulfillment, and continued sustenance and unending respect for their potential. It is another way of saying that, “I want what I say to stimulate you, to bring you peace, to help you to grow to your ultimate potential. I want what I say to bring us totally together. You have dignity and therefore my interaction with you must offer you all that you deserve, the total me at the moment.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have such communication with those we love? How splendid, rewarding and nourishing it would be.”
The entire text is by: Leo Buscaglia, “Loving Each Other through Communication” in Loving Each Other: The Challenge of Human Relationships, 1984, 59-62.