A Short Story from the September 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
Is not language and communication something we most of us take for granted? Not until now have I found cause to dwell on how precious an asset is this tool we have to bring us closer to our understanding of one another.
For example communication is indispensable to rage. Rage without the right words to communicate it with is hollow, redundant, rather like the ranting of a small child who has not yet acquired the ability to speak coherently. It is small wonder that toddlers stamp their feet, wail and lie down on the floor and scream until they are blue in the face. It is because the necessary tool, words, has for the time-being eluded them. The tantrums usually grow less as the child develops speech. A few times lately I have yearned to lie down on the floor and scream when the words I had hoped I was using came over as though I had downed a bottle of Scotch beforehand. But in so many ways is speech abused, used sometimes for the egoistic pleasure of hearing the sound of one's own voice, or to dominate whatever situation one finds oneself in. How often do we actually listen to what another person is saying, concentrating without interruption on what they are telling us? I am bound to admit that I haven't—always. Now that I have to listen through no choice of my own I find that a lot of people talk a lot of drivel, and that those who talk the most drivel are the least likely to listen to anybody else.
We all know that small talk is useful to warming up the proceedings when we first meet new people. The expectation is that small talk will lead to big talk and we will shortly be having marvellous conversations about the important things of life. Have you noticed that this sometimes doesn't happen and the small talk becomes even smaller talk the next time you meet and the time after that too? Then it dawns on you that they really do regard The Weather, their holiday in Greece last year and their new make of car as vital topics of conversation. But by this time they have begun to count you as among their best friends. Your silence has been misinterpreted. You are a good listener because you are stunned by their eloquence.
People come to visit me. For most of the time my speech defect precludes me from joining in on the chat. If it is just one person visiting they have to persevere with me. He or she will often sit embarrassed but brave, straining to comprehend what I am getting at. If there are several visitors then they will throw caution to the wind and talk to each other. Often a nod or a wink in my direction is to show that they know I am still there. So I have little alternative but to listen and it is then that I grieve for my absent power of speech.
People not only talk drivel but they talk repetitive drivel. There is a tendency to repeat the uninspiring, unoriginal, mind-deadening rubbish they were verbalising a few seconds before; I guess in case it wasn't received the first time.
It's not asking for much. There must be some social aspect of the world that has struck someone at some time or another. It needn't be Existentialism or Einstein's Theory of Relativity. I would merely like to hear some opinions expressed about the world, the country, our lives and how they're run. Questions are there to be asked, but, no, apart from a mention of a child abduction (how many children are slaughtered on the roads every year is not so interesting) our interaction stays dreary—even The Weather is dragged out for a re-assessment.
Not a very long time elapses before I cease to attend. It is excusable in a sick woman that she should suddenly close her eyes and shudder. Only those who know me very well will know why I shudder. It is the acceptance of the status quo. No matter how much exploitation, hunger, injustice and war exist in the world and no matter how little power the working class has over its management, the wretchedness continues and so few of us have made any effort to analyse why. Now that the fact of the impermanence of living is staring me in the face I have become impatient with the foolishness of human existence.