Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Lost Art of Communication or Another Blog with no Pictures

Something that has been troubling me the last few months is my inability to communicate.  I only take partial responsibility for this inadequacy, for when I look around I seem to be surrounded by a culture that has lost the ability to communicate ideas.  I live in India and speak neither Telugu nor Hindi.  I often struggle with communication here.  But that is a wholly separate frustration and not at all related to what I am attempting to say.  I have just returned from a little over a month in the US and as I look back over that trip I feel an empty sensation that very little worth saying was said.  I believe it was Elijah who was described as “none of his words fell to the ground.”  Since the first time I read that I fell in love with this expression as a golden standard and was simultaneously deflated to realize it was something that would never be attributed to me.  Most people who know me consider my conversations frivolous, garrulous, and oft times irreverent.  I think a vast majority of my words fall directly to the ground.  Very little of what I say and the conversations that I pursue are the self examining and edifying conversations that I thirst for.  

I do not think I am so alone in this.  After my Ham Sandwich post I was told by several of my friends that they were surprised I felt such loneliness here in India as they felt like we were friends.  Hopefully I did not alienate people by saying that I don’t have relationships here, I do.  I think the problem is that in the last year I have lost my ability to have good, meaningful conversation and in concert with several other changes in my life, that has left a great emptiness in my spirit.  

As I’m writing this I realize that my posts and internal thoughts have become much more negative in tone than they once were.  I think living long term in a foreign culture and dealing with some of the attached issues has brought certain things to light.  It would be foolish and irresponsible to attempt to ignore feelings that one has in this time as they give the clues to changing one’s situation as well as improving one’s person.  And as my person requires much improving I am working through these things in this oddly public forum.  I’m not quite as self-promoting as I may come across in this blog but writing helps me to think things out and I feel like filling up a blog is a goal that will drive such thinking where journaling and the like I never actually get around to.  Hopefully, my dear reader, you will find my mutterings helpful, or in the very least sympathetic to your own situation.  If you examine the empty feelings in your life due to something I write, then my purpose would be fulfilled.

One of the long list of things I've always wanted to do more is write and receive letters.  Primarily of the postal and not electronic variety.  I love pens that don’t have a ball on the point and missives sealed in wax.  I love to hold interesting paper in my hand and scratch away as I write.  On the rare occasions where I have received a letter it has universally been dear to me.  I do not do this as writing takes time, I feel like I would need something to say, and stamps are a hassle; but I desire it nonetheless.  One of the advantages of letter writing that has been lost to our digital age is that it better fosters relationship than all of the various modes of over stimulating “communication” that exist in our arsenal today.  To me, at least, it feels counter intuitive that to write something alone that is to be read alone would build relationship better than a video call.  When you write something you think about what your are writing as you don’t want to scratch it out or throw out the sheet if you think better of it later.  This is in stark contrast to the mental, grammatical, and emotional vomit that springs forth in e-mails and chat settings.  When you read something that someone has written with their hands it is more precious.  One spends time to understand it and read it through.  One does not hit reply halfway through the letter in defensive self-preservation but finishes the thought and must, in turn, think through one’s own response.  One is forced to hear the whole story from the author and is more likely to hear the author’s perspective.  Will this post ignite a letter writing revolution that will save the US Postal Service from certain doom?  I doubt it.  Will we think about attempting to communicate more intentionally, I hope so.  I Skype my family on a monthly basis as opposed to a daily one.  We chat about what has been going on in our lives.  I very rarely communicate with anyone else back home in any more depth than clicking “Like” on Facebook.  I no longer know my friend’s passions, dreams, and fears.  I rarely know what are their doubts and aspirations.  Those conversations have not happened and in the midst of that, in the relational silence of TV and other pursuits, I have not spoken these things about myself either and I know myself less deeply than I once did.  I think it would be possible in our over publicized age to have these conversations and to only speak, and not listen; to broadcast and not receive.  That, of course, is not what I am suggesting.  Conversation is at the very least two sided.  But it is interesting that in failing to know one another we can very quickly not know ourselves.  

Part of me argues that this is part of growing up.  That dreams die with age and life becomes more monotonous and mediocre.  Sheldon calls it “work a day” for a reason.  The dreamer in me will not accept that.  The idealist rejects that notion wholeheartedly.  Age and responsibility should not spell the death of dreams but a vibrancy of vision; knowing what all is possible in this world, or at least what could be possible.  Our dreams should grow with the wisdom that helps them come to fruition, not wither and die with realistic expectations.  It is interesting to see the upswing in fantasy and sci-fi in popular media.  Maybe we are starting to get bored with realism.  Reality TV has shown us shallow drama and nitpicking the little, inconsequential things.  And as we have watched them pull the lice out of each other’s hair maybe we are becoming tired of reality.  Maybe reality TV sucks because our realities suck.  Maybe we are thirsting for myth and heroism once again.  Maybe we think that big, idealistic things can happen.  Maybe Causes are worth living for once again.

I have always loved pictures from Scandinavian lands.  I am captivated by imposing fjords and unending primeval forests.  I am fascinated by a land where a people group rides reindeer and dresses like Christmas elfs.  There is something about the roughness of Northern life and landscapes that calls to my shrinking soul.  I would love, hypothetically, to live in Alaska or Denmark.  Part of my ancestry is Clan McLeod and descend from Vikings who landed in the harsh islands of Scotland and thought it would be a pleasant place to raise a family.  That being said, I was reading the in-flight magazine on my flight home and saw an article about Iceland.  These few pages further fed my clandestine obsession for northern climes but one of the things that stuck with me was mention of the Icelander’s love for story.  Whether it be a bar tale or an ancient Norse myth, Icelanders love tales long or short.  I apologize for not having the will or literary integrity to look up the source and quote the above correctly but it was put out by Delta and I’m sure if you are really interested you could find it.  This story-philic culture enticed me as I love myth but outside of a few nerdy friends it seems like there aren't a whole lot of people who do.

The plot of movies and TV should be intriguing and entertaining but it doesn't have to mean anything. In the midst of some of the benefits of moral relativism we have lost the ability to think that there are some things worth encouraging each other to be.  People don't aspire to be heroes.  People aspire to be entertained by heroes that they watch on their huge entertainment systems.  I was reading an article on SteamPunkWorkshop about how we used to be musicians but that we as a culture have lost that.  People used to sing and play instruments at home but these days if you don’t have a platinum album you are not a musician.  The sadness of this state is compounded by the fact that many of the people with Platinum albums don’t deserve the title of musician but I digress.

I think in the same way we as a culture are no longer storytellers.  Stories are not told at bedtime when the tablet or TV can keep the child quite at the appropriate time.  Very few people excel at or even attempt to tell good stories amongst their friends.  As we become a storyless society, as our mythology and fairy tales die, then we strive less and less to be the heroes in those stories and a bit of ourselves die with it.  “Clap Peter!”.  I don’t think telling the stories of Hercules, Manawydan, and Siva will save our culture, though it might help.  But I think we can have a modern mythology that pushes us to greater things.  Unfortunately, if we are not having real discussions we probably are not telling any stories along the way.

Maybe it is just me but the more I am “connected” digitally and “socially” the more and more remote I feel towards my fellow human beings.  I know more of what is happening in people’s lives, I see more pictures, but I know the individual less.  Social networking poses the threat of destroying community.  I think it is possible to still know people, to still be connected in an age of social media, but I believe that it has provided a cheap imitation of relationship that, if we are not careful, will swallow our up our communities and replace  relational intimacy with mere digital nearness.

It is very similar to living in a city.  If one is not careful in urban environments one is surrounded by many people but in that crowdedness many people I have known have expressed feelings of loneliness.   People in small towns tend to have less people around them but due to various social and cultural variables tend to be more relationally connected to that smaller population.  The aether has created a digital urbanization that could, if we are not intentional, drown out our relational communities.  From the death of the epistle to the accepted norm of texting/facebooking in the company of real human beings we see the symptoms of this disease around us daily.  The antidote is not, I am sure, a rejection of modern technologies and social media; they serve a good and powerful purpose and it would be naive at best to assume that they could be rejected by a population.  What I think the cure is, however, is to learn to reconnect with human beings at a deeper level in all of its awkwardness and pain.  I have learned in India that I had stopped looking people in the eye, as is the norm here.  I had lost the art of question asking which is something I had forced myself to learn in college.  My tools for community and relationship had been dulled over the past few years and now I have to take the inconvenient and time intensive steps to sharpen them and the relationships that they foster.  I hope you, dear reader, may take the same steps as well.

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