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‘Speech is silvern’

Aug 22,2019 - Last updated at Aug 22,2019

A careful observer of people engaging in discourse in our society must have, for decades, noticed that most of them speak much more than they listen.

Some do not listen at all.

In certain situations, speaking more than listening could be alright, even required. There are times and contexts when one is expected to articulate his/her position at length, speak in defence of an idea, a thing or a person and explain a notion or a matter extensively to interested listeners, such as learners, trainees, patients, tourists, etc.

In most situations, however, and in most formal or informal communication settings, speaking more than listening is a vice.

Overall, one is expected to balance speaking and listening.

When others speak, one is supposed to listen intently so as to understand precisely and digest fully what they say. And when his/her turn comes to respond or inject a point, one is entitled to react or elaborate what they think in the clearest terms possible.

Balance is the key word here.

Very often in our society, such balance is lacking, and many fall victim to those who dominate conversations, preventing others from expressing themselves and depriving themselves from the opportunity to listen, understand and learn.

It is a stark case, in my opinion, of a surplus in speaking, and a deficit in listening.

This is not healthy, and a lot of loss or harm is done.

On the one hand, many are repressed, silenced and prevented from contributing to fruitful communication and dialogue; on the other, many pour forth a lot of irrelevant words, and loads of loud noise and nonsense.

This, as I prefaced above, has been the case for decades.

Now that through social media and other technologies of communication people have a lot of venues of expression at their disposal, the imbalance has doubled, tripled, and quadrupled.

To some, as a matter of fact, speaking or expressing has become excessive and an obsession, even a disease.

Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other similar venues are, essentially, one-way. Some dialogue happens, but it is mainly monologue.

Egos, edicts, sermons, theses, lectures, etc. abound.

Social media, by its very nature, tips or tilts in favour of those who express or "transmit": those who are after passive spectators and cheering audiences.

This is especially true in our society, which is historically biased towards the oratory at the expense of the auditory: bold, plentiful eloquence and plenty of words, rather than attentiveness and careful listening.

Other societies may differ.

Most of my international Facebook friends, for example, rarely sermonise or preach. Most of the time, they share what others are doing or saying.

This is unlike many of my fellow "countrypersons", most of whom view Facebook as a pulpit from which they bombard others with words of wisdom, didacticism, criticism, cynicism and sarcasm.

The problem may not be with Facebook, Twitter, or WhatsApp per se; these are tools like many others, whose vice or virtue depends on how we use them.

They have the potential to contribute to fruitful interaction, meaningful dialogue, and constructive communication.

As they are currently used, however, they are means of transmission rather than reception, one-way discourse rather than sober interaction and dialogue. As such, they are far from being constructive. In fact, they are most often either subversive, destructive, or a total waste of time.

In our complex world, many things change, and change fast, such as the many technologies we use for communication, transportation, and interaction.

Some things remain constant or unchanged.

These include many of our truths and values, which include the age-old sayings of: “Speech is silvern, silence is golden”; or “speech is of time, silence is of eternity.”

Folks: speak less, and listen more.

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