“Don’t speak until you’re spoken to”
“Children should be seen and not heard”
Two of the favourite sayings of my mother and both grandmothers as I grew up.
And then at school it was “Don’t speak out of turn” and “Wait for permission to speak”.
Obviously ‘permission’ was granted (or might be) when I ‘put my hand up’, but I could never quite figure out when it was my ‘turn’.
Then there was “You should keep your opinions to yourself” and “Be careful what you say”.
And of course “Mind your own business” and “Don’t be nosey” (or words to that effect) if you started to ask questions about people.
Now for those of us in that immediate post-war generation it was clear that our parents had to some extent been ‘trained’ in this philosophy for reasons of national security but it goes back a much longer way and can be found in the works of Dickens and Shakespeare.
The trouble is that all of this seeming ‘common sense’ is seriously inhibiting to both individuals and to society as a whole.
These phrases cause permanent damage when repeated often enough (which isn’t much). They inhibit peoples’ potential to a massive degree and the conditioning is extremely difficult to eliminate having been imprinted at an early age.
But it still goes on, for one reason or another.
I still find it very difficult to initiate conversations with people I don’t know, and even amongst friends and colleagues I find myself ‘waiting my turn’ to speak.
And when I do, I often feel just a little bit guilty, or that I’ve ‘got away’ having taken a bit of a risk.
Current generations are attempting to find a way round this conditioning thanks to the technology you and I now have available.
So instead of opening real conversations, we send emails (yes, like this one) and post our thoughts on ‘social media’.
We avoid the imprinted constraints by writing and not ‘speaking’.
Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, the majority of emails, the majority of tweets, posts and longer articles on social media, we are talking to ourselves.
No-one is ‘listening’. It’s a one way street, a one way conversation, in fact, not a conversation at all.
Only when people are outrageous, offensive, or deliberately provocative does a conversation start, and then it tends to be an argument.
This is borne out by the fact that those who use the internet and social media for marketing are delighted with a response from just a handful of people out of every hundred recipients.
‘Everyone’ is ‘talking’, but very few are listening and even fewer responding.
There is very little ‘sensible debate’ where someone doesn’t attempt to create some sort of ‘stand-off’ or turn it into a ‘slanging match’.
The internet has become a sort of ‘tower of babel’ with everyone talking at once, no-one listening and no-one really understanding what is going on.
And then there’s the ‘fake news’ and generally false information, opinion masquerading as fact, and just plain nonsense.
Of course like in the old days with the newspapers, radio and TV – if it’s on the internet it must be true!
So we now have a reverse of the previous position when ‘everyone’ was listening to the few who had been given the ‘authority’ to talk.
All that has happened is that the direction of travel down the one way street has been reversed.
But it gives you and I an opportunity.
We need to open conversations with real people in real time, we need to encourage people to do the same and to attend events where people are speaking in real life, such as lectures and debates.
We need to ‘network’ with different groups of people ‘live’, not on the internet.
But most of all . . .
We need to talk.