There are no rules as to how, or how much, we should talk. But there are influences on our talk, and there are positive and negative aspects, in context, to whether we choose to talk or be silent, challenge or acquiesce.
THE BALANCE OF ENERGY
By talking, we generate energy in the room. But if someone else is tired, then, even though we are generating energy, we may also be taking it away from that someone else. For example, if someone is trying to get used to their own exhaustion, and recover, then our talk may be requiring them to give listening energy they simply haven’t got. Equally, if someone is trying to solve something in their own head, it may not help for us to talk. They may just need a companion to be listening attentively.
There is a balance of energy in every room, in every place. If we are sensitive, we will be able to work out whether our words are needed or helpful. Sometimes they are. Sometimes an exhausted person may want some background noise to their exhaustion. It may help to silence their own unhelpful inner talk. And sometimes someone with a problem will welcome words. It may help to give them models of thought, new ways to approach the issue.
Which way to go – how much to talk – is a matter of judgement. Those who think silence is always best, are wrong. Those who think talking is always best, are wrong. It just depends on the context, and on what helps. For instance, if someone is verbally bullying another person, then we may choose to use verbal skills to challenge or disarm the person being mean; equally, we may use verbal skills to comfort the person being victimised; or sometimes we may use judicious silence to gather evidence and energy, ready for another time.
THE BALANCE OF LANGUAGE
By talking, we also impose our own language. Vocabulary is a very powerful thing. Political speak is partly a war of words, a battle in which people try to impose their narrative. Emotional conversation can be the same thing, in which each participant tries to get their story in before anyone else has a chance. You can see this in the talk of bullies, when they inject words quickly, like daggers, into a situation, and use labels to hurt.
But you can also see this in the talk of apparently ‘good’ people. Instead of sharing language, they suffocate the conversation with one set of thoughts only, one perspective, backed up by a well-practiced linguistic repertoire. This is what some people mean when they react against ‘political correctness’. They are experiencing an imbalance, as one particular group, believing they are right, commandeer a set of phrases, and use them to control the world about them.
We can correct some of these imbalances by getting curious about new languages. Instead of simply repeating our conventional, shop-bought phrases, we can take time, and search together for words which are harder-won. This is what many poets do. They seek new ways to put things, often ways which undermine or re-inform old phrases. When we talk with friends, we can listen carefully, and then seek out ways to put things which add a new dimension to the conversation.
One could almost argue that we have a duty to break up the monopolies exercised by majority-speak. People can find it too easy to trot out common phrases in order to defend their protected space. There is, for instance, a set of language used by the left in politics; there is also a set of competing language used by the right. The left defends kindness, but also works in social hatred of privilege. The right defends freedom, but also works in social hatred of weakness. The languages become slick, but polluted with hate.
There are no rules as to how we should use talk and language.
But we can attend to the energy in the room, and see how our conversation skills might be put to best use. We can only do this by assessing the level of readiness or weariness, the nature of the problem and the person, and the power dynamic present.
We should be aware that language is powerful. It is often used as a territorial weapon, consolidating one group’s influence at the expense of another’s. In particular, we can become poets, and use our language skills to ask questions, to play with loose bricks in the castle walls people use to defend themselves, and to remove hurtful points from the front of the spears of aggressors.