Communication, Communication, Communication











As with pretty much every other article on this website; the discussions I attempt to have relate to my own life in particular - I don’t pretend to know how (or even if) what is being discussed relates to your own life.

More to that point - what I’m going to talk about is not directly triggered by a particular event, although it is fair to say that things that I have experienced in recent months have undoubtedly contributed to my latest state of mind.

So - bear with me if you will - as I attempt to put into words a personal discussion about that trickiest of human interactions - successful communication: Communication which - and I say this with only the slightest exaggeration - the entire success of the human condition depends upon.

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If I asked all of you right now when your last one-on-one human conversation took place (it doesn’t have to be a meaningful one, though - if you’re like me - I would discount conversations in and about your job*), I think I could put people into two broad categories:
  • People who have spoken to someone in the last few hours
  • People who have to think a moment and go “I think yesterday evening counts?”
Okay, so it’s not too difficult to see where this is going - chances are the former lives with a partner, housemates or family - the latter, where I currently belong - live alone.

And I must admit that - whilst this is a fairly logical way of summarising a person’s living situation (either they speak to the same person or few day-in-day-out, or they go for much longer periods of times (days; weeks?) without having a conversation with someone) - it is a rather polarising set of scenarios; one set are used to ongoing dialogue, within short timeframes; whilst the other is far less frequent, and often with a variety of people.

And that is a significant division in the way people live.

Yes, there are a billion other ways you could cut the statistic ‘people who live on their own, versus people who don’t’; but I think the way the two groups interact with their fellow humans is a fundamentally important difference that needs to be explored.

Hence the article :)

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[* I have - happily I think - compartmentalised my working life; it is a necessary activity that I fully engage in when at my employer’s; and then something I completely disengage with at the end of the working day - bar the occasional reference in conversations; my job doesn’t figure as part of my actual life, other than to fund it!]

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So let’s explore my world for a moment - starting from the last one-on-one human conversation that took place:

Sunday. Today is Tuesday.

Okay so Monday I played badminton and of course there was a conversation between the three of us playing; but there was talk about the game whilst we are actually playing [I was too unfit to include anything beyond 'Dan swing racket, Dan fail at winning point’], and some 'social administration’ as you could clinically refer to it, before and after briefly. Naturally there were the British(?) social courtesies of asking how each other were, and everyone replying 'fine’ regardless of how they actually were - but I wouldn’t count any of that as a one-on-one human conversation.

[That is not to discount the value of that interaction by the way - physically I had a knackering but good evening; socially I felt 'in touch’ with some of my Leeds-based friends. And I think they would be the first to agree that if there was a time and a place for more significant conversation, that time and place would not be during a friendly badminton match…!]

Sunday afternoon, to be a little more precise; as I was back at my hometown, I caught up with a few good friends - the latest being in the early midst of a few life-changing events (moving house, planning a wedding), so whilst we did chat over a few board games, the conversation wove it’s way towards the upcoming wedding - particular as her fiance joined us.

[Again, this is not a point for me to state 'here was a missed opportunity for a real conversation about - frankly - me’; it really wasn’t. This was an afternoon social call of a few hours, to relax, catch up on a bit of gossip; play some board games, and - most importantly - just be around people I get along with really well. I wouldn’t expect anything else.]

As I spent an elongated weekend in my hometown, my conversations ran very much along the lines of what they usually do [and - again - in ways I expected, and very much wanted them to]; catching up with old school friends; laughing off how our school days are now so much further away than they used to be [IE since last time we talked about it a few months ago!]; shooting some pool; playing some golf (for the first time in about 4 years - or maybe more?); eating a most delicious memory-inducing Balti. Then spending time with my parents; catching up on their latest holiday adventures {evidently semi-retired people spend a lot of time going on mini-breaks}; getting the latest on my wider family’s goings on; and just generally enjoying being fed and loved as their son.

Now I don’t appear to have one of these excessively close relationships that I think some people do with their parents - telling them everything about their lives - but our relationship is a very comfortable one; and I don’t expect it to change dramatically any time soon.

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So even from this extract over the past 5 days or so; my one-on-one conversations have been few, and definitely more varied than 'average’: It isn’t every weekend I travel home and catch up with a large share of family and friends from that 'world’.

'Normally’ I would not really catch up with many people in a one-on-one situation (or something akin to that): The bulk of my regular interactions would come as follows:
Responding to a tweet/Facebook post
Chatting to a tiny few on Steam, whilst playing Space Engineers
Social pleasantries/calendering around the badminton court
Tuesday evenings with Leeds friends
Very occasional emails

And I must admit the Tuesday evenings - previously hooked onto the framework of Game of Thrones episodes (which only serves to fuel my frustration of its failings [for me] as a show) - have lost their structure (for me), and I am increasingly unenthusiastic about attending [which is, of course, a depressing feeling - but something I’m having to work out currently].

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I’m basically saying my opportunity for one-on-one conversations (through no-one’s fault, except possibly my own) is starkly reduced - compared to that of people who live with another:

I imagine that those of you who do live with a partner, housemate or your family; one-on-one conversation is such a regular features that it just builds up as part of your evening/time together. Obviously what is talked about ranges from the mundane ('what do you want for dinner?’) through to the potentially life-changing - the latter particularly if you live with your partner.

Obviously I am not pretending that these conversations are Shakesperian in eloquence; Hollywood in their resolution; or even particularly enjoyable, all the time. Certain memes/Tumblr posts make it quite clear that even the most 'together’ of couples enjoy their time apart, and an evening’s conversation may only touch on the briefest of acknowledgements.

But - usually - it’s there.

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And I think the point I’m getting to at this stage is that conversation may well be taken for granted.

Oh god and I’m not about to employ guilt on all of you that have this home-situation - Christ no! This is not a preachy lecture, by any means.

But having had my own 'penny-drop’ moment a few weeks ago, after realising this significant difference between a significant portion of my friend’s home lives, and my own (and many of my other friends of course too); I wondered if those of us on the other sides of each other’s home-living scenario, have realised how different these scenarios are - and what challenges they raise up.

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I am not for one second going to attempt to talk about the scenario from the perspective of someone living with their partner(/housemate/family) - my own experiences of these are now distant memory, and I doubt I will reflect on them in the same context I now find myself [having had a much more solitary view on my existence 7 years or so ago].

So what is it like for me, living with relatively few direct conversation opportunities?

Well when I do have an opportunity to speak one-on-one with someone about things - but typically more life-related things than your brief social encounter, as part of a wider social event - it is great. Even when it is talking about something that I haven’t quite yet figured out, or got my head around; or even when it is talking with someone I have (in my mind) created an entirely fictional version of their response; it is great.

Even beyond one-on-one encounters; when I’m part of a group discussing things that affect my life - for example earlier in the year after I made a pretty poor choice of language on one of my primary communication tools (Twitter) - the discussion after the aftermath was so helpful, and self-affirming; giving me a whole better understanding of both what had happened, and how my friends actually saw the situation - rather than what I had projected onto the cold emphasis-free text of Facebook comments.

And my one-on-one conversations/hang-outs with a few close friends in recent months have also been great to have. Okay, so some of them led me to places I didn’t expect, and caused a few hiccups on the way; but - content aside - the feeling I get from these interactions are broadly positive.

And it actually pains me that I can’t have them more often; (yes I know the obvious solution here). It cannot be overstated that the power these interactions have with me, are critical to me.

And I think people who live alone are likely to appreciate that a little more than those of you who have these encounters much more regularly; simply because there is someone there in your living-space on a much more frequent basis.

=

So what of the downsides?

{Hang on folks - this is quite a long one ain’t it? Bear with me - I’m nearly done!}

It shouldn’t surprise many of you, that my overactive imagination is undoubtedly my undoing.

Because when the conversation’s don’t happen - or fail to get started - or a minor comment gets dropped into the wrong context - the imagination takes over.

And with the floodgates opened, with loving abandon in the past two years; I am not always in control: When the emotions really take hold of an idea, or a scenario that - by rights - shouldn’t exist, and probably won’t - I can be in for quite the downward spiral.

Which - I think - the majority of these would be countered with the simple application of conversation; real, measured, dialogue between people. Or at least having someone to 'unload’ the pressures of the mind to; not just once in a while - but in short bursts, before anything serious builds up in there.

And, yes, I’m not pretending that couples have this sorted to a fine art - I don’t expect these conversations are always easy to even start; sometimes you have to reach out to someone else - sometimes you just have to express it as a picture from the internet, and try it again another day.

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But for those of you who do live with another; that opportunity for a conversation is much more readily available to you, than to those of us that don’t live with another.

Please - cherish that opportunity; embrace the opportunity to not only say something that you have noticed about the human experience - even if it is “did you hear that awesome Blackbird song Danny posted?” - and; chances are; you’ll get an almost immediate response.

For the rest of us; all we can do is begin the conversation online. And hope.

:-)


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