Why speak? Why write?

I’ve suffered a certain amount of frustration with my writing just lately. There has been the usual imposter syndrome. Who am I kidding, I’m not a writer, who’s going to read this stuff anyway, what’s the point?

To be honest, I don’t think these blog posts help me to feel any differently. There’s something more than a little disheartening about writing something, putting it out there and having it simply disappear into the ether without any feedback at all.

But then I ask myself the question, why do I need feedback? After all, by my own admission I lack confidence in my writing. Inviting feedback risks leaving myself wide open to almost any kind of criticism. My school teachers did enough damage in that respect.

So it gets me thinking about why we as a species communicate at all? Why do so many of us feel positively driven to communicate? Millennia ago one of our ancestors must have made a sound that began to mean something particular to their group. Quite possibly a babies cry was the first word to be understood, not just by the mother, but to all around her. Might this have been the root of all language. Given that we were so small and helpless at that age did we, out of necessity, quickly learn that this utterance gave us some power and control over other members of our group?

Of course every living thing has some means of communication; chemical or bio-electrical signals. Possibly even non living matter; if we choose to see the laws of physics as a form of communication. But, as far as we know, we are the only species to have developed speech and from that, complex language. Further down the line we discovered ways of communicating without speaking; perhaps beginning by scratching symbols into the earth.

Now, natural selection is not known for wasting time, energy and resource making changes that do not give a species some kind of edge in the survival game. So I’m kind of doubtful that these skills of communication came about, simply as a means of personal entertainment or self reflection; at least initially anyway. There had to have been some form of survival value in passing on information in the ways that we do.

I’m guessing that we quickly learned that these skills of communication weren’t just useful for attracting attention when we needed it. We learned that we could convey our thoughts to other members of our group. We could use language to organise ourselves as a group in order to find food and shelter. So we had the beginnings of cooperative behaviour; something which also gave us a survival edge. Although I accept that cooperation probably developed earlier than verbal skills.

When I was very small, back in the early 1950s, there was a very different attitude to raising children. They were seen mainly as a practical problem. That is, they had to be fed and watered, kept warm and safe, but not seen as needing very much attention beyond that. At least not until later on in their development. The concept of emotional development didn’t seem to be considered as important as the development of intellect or motor skills. The idea that all of these things needed to be considered equally, didn’t seem to be part of the equation.

So what might happen to a developing human if their attempts at communication go unheeded, or are misinterpreted? From a personal perspective I’ve often wondered why I’ve always had a deep sense of isolation; even in a group. The clues to what might have happened for me, or rather what didn’t happen for me, lie in my current situation; which is as a step parent and grandparent. I’ve married into a family environment that is completely different from mine as I remember it. I’ve been witness to how a new person is celebrated even as they enter this life. And that celebration continues right through their early years and beyond. They are encouraged in their endeavours. As far as possible their learning situations are made as joyful as possible. They are held and cuddled if they are distressed. They are never hit. Most importantly they are never left to feel they are alone; unless events contrive to put them in that position. And they’re never left on the naughty step for any length of time.

All of this behaviour is the polar opposite to my own experience as a child. I think back then it would have been seen as mollycoddling. Boys in particular were seen as needing toughening up. While I wasn’t beaten, I knew the slap of an open hand across the back of my thigh. If I cried at all I was threatened with being given something to cry about. Criticism seemed to be the norm for me, from my peers as well as the adults in my life. So it’s little wonder that I ended up quite shut down. I was fearful and therefore avoided, anything that might have made me the centre of attention. To this day it makes me cringe.

But here’s the funny thing. There is a flip side to my desire to go unnoticed. Part of me still craves that positive feedback. There’s a bit of me that is inwardly jumping up and down shouting, “hey, look what I’ve done!” “Please engage with me; tell me what you think”. Of course the key word here is, “positive”. Understandably I’ve grown up being my own worst critic. So I don’t really need it from anyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for glowing praise. Just an odd word here and there; something genuinely felt and meant. It goes a long way towards undoing the damage of the past.

2 thoughts on “Why speak? Why write?

  1. A very interesting and philosophical view of communication. It is indeed a double-edged sword – get it right and life is rosier for all involved – get it wrong, i.e., be misinterpreted, and it can be very difficult to undo any damage done.
    We all seem to need recognition and appreciation. I have friends who can’t face retirement because they assess the loss of these two in the workplace as being not worth the freedom that retirement brings – I find that sad.

    I like your upbeat note at the end – and I enjoy your writing too. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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