Very few people are actually bad at communication. I freely admit to being one of them.
It's not to knock myself, but to be honest: I live so deeply in my head, I am such an introvert, that it actually feels like a painful and difficult waste of time to stop exploring the world of ideas and converse in the real world with other human beings.
For most other people, I've found, this is not an issue. Rather, it is that they are mentally constipated -- that is, they know what they have to say, and they feel the urgency to say it, but the words get stuck in their heads.
When it's not a result of some disability, difficulty communicating is normally caused by some external factor. In my observation, if you find yourself "stuck," it's because you've been unnaturally silenced:
- Intimately - by an abusive parent, trusted authority figure or romantic partner
- Professionally - at school or at work, on the grounds that you're somehow incompetent
- Structurally - by your class; either the social system in which you operate has deemed you dis-privileged (economically a failure, inferior, unworthy, criminal, mentally unstable) or super-privileged (wealthy, celebrity, politically powerful). In the former case, you're considered unworthy of an audience. In the latter, you're so worthy of an audience that communication from you is a risk that requires management
- Ideologically - you are part of a belief system in which words must be regulated, for example religion
- Officially - your job is to represent an organization, and therefore your remarks must be reviewed prior to your speaking
Of course, not all regulation of speech is bad, wrong or unnecessary. At the most basic level it keeps the social order intact; imagine if we all just said what we thought! (Baseball bat, anyone?)
And in our jobs, of course, we work in a team. We have to coordinate the things we say on behalf of the organization, if only because there are sensitivities that we might not be aware of, or policies that ensure an accurate and consistent message to the public. I myself am subject to these; we all need "rules of the road."
But what I'm talking about goes beyond the rational ordering of business and social life. It's irrational, a dysfunction, and represents the tendency of social systems to oppress their individual members, regardless of the intentions of the people inside the system.
We are very blessed in the United States that communication is protected. Our Declaration of Independence says we have an "inalienable" right to three things: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" -- and the First Amendment specifically protects free speech.
When you stop people from being themselves, you turn them neurotic -- depressed, symptomatic, and unable to simply relax and "be." It's the same thing that happens when you count calories, poke your head into people's bedrooms, take attendance at prayer services.
You see, communication is more than just an output of pictures and words. It's the flow of a person's natural human energy. It's representative of their unique existence. And when it's stuck, it's like their whole life is on hold.
So how to get oneself out of this? One suggestion: RUN --
- Away from people who try to silence you.
- Toward those who treasure the words you have to say.
I am very fortunate. Though at times there were those who silenced me (well, they tried) it was my mother who ferociously encouraged me -- to write, sing, play the piano or any instrument, perform in theater, pursue art and fashion studies, and express my creativity in any way imaginable.
Sadly, in her own youth she was silenced fairly regularly. Not out of any intentional cruelty, but simply as a result of living in less enlightened times, where the intimate, the professional, and the structural mixed.
As an adult my mother made things right in her own way.
Handed me pen, paper and a ride to any lesson I wanted.
And even today, every single day, in some way, shape or form, she encourages and empowers me to speak.
All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by David Precious via Flickr.