‘My kid just won’t talk to me about anything,’ she complained to the class teacher. ‘If I get to know something it’s usually because one of his classmate’s mothers or one of you tell me, never from him. Hmm?’ The hmm came with inherent threat attached.
The ‘kid’ in question shied away from the irate parent, clearly keen to be free of the conversation. The mother caught his hand, mouth sternly displaying her displeasure at the state of events. Was she going to give him a tongue-lashing? Right there in front of the whole class! He wanted to be out of the room, preferably out of the school.
Is this communication?
‘No! You can’t go! Why? You dare ask me WHY? Because I said so!’ she snapped. So that was it, the little girl had been looking forward to a visit to the park and a horse-cart ride with her mother. Her hopes were dashed. Afraid of the sight of her angry mother, she retreated and looked to the ground.
Later the mother would regret the outburst and what happened afterwards. At first, she ignored the girl. Afterwards, she slapped her over a triviality. But it had been a bad day at work. Her boss had informed her that her spoken English was an irreversible flaw. Her future prospects would be hampered on account of it. After so much hard work, to hear this!
Is this communication?
‘Why such low marks?’ his father loomed over him, report card in hand. He shrugged and looked at the ground. ‘I didn’t study enough.’ It should have been obvious, the boy smirked to himself. ‘Huh! Why else would my marks below? Doesn’t he get the correlation between marks and studies?‘
‘I get the feeling you aren’t sorry! Are you?’ the man loomed again.
Well it would have been easier to cringe and cry and apologize but the boy would not do that.
‘You’re 15. 15! I do so much for you! Don’t you even care?’
The boy watched stone-faced as his father yanked out the television wires. It was true, he didn’t care. He had friends with televisions, computers, why, they had everything! Not like this stupid house, it had nothing. On top of that, stupid parents who allowed nothing!
Is this communication?
In each snippet, the adult is speaking while the young person is not, yet, both are communicating. What is the difference? When the adult has spoken, it has been an expression of helplessness, rage or frustration. The young on the other hand, has developed a mechanism of retreat. So how did I learn this?
I was a trainee, fresh out of college. I was afraid of a boss known for his quick temper. He would never tell me what to do, just shout, sometimes insult. I’d be paralyzed by fear and was close to a tearful resignation. That is, until a helpful colleague came along and told me the exact steps to carry out. The job got done. That is communication. One, it is comfortable and comforting. Two, it conveys trust in the listener. Three, it is clear. Four, it seeks to convey a message without causing feelings to churn in a negative abyss.
Mere expression on the other hand, sets in place feelings of inadequacy, low ability and creates a struggle that interferes with what remains to be done. One can get by with expression at the workplace, grown-ups have free will. Grown-ups can resign. In families, however, the recipient of the message is too young to exercise free will. There is no option but to retreat, to create a wall. And from that safe place where no one can cause hurt, mock the parent. Is this the outcome of communication that you want?
Shobna’s story till now: Mother to a now-20 year old, wife to a huggable bear (who growls pretty often). A Bachelor of Commerce and Masters in Personnel (a choice she regrets to this day), left full-time Corporate HR work after 17 years, works full-time for a travel company (from home), aspiring writer whose manuscript has been rejected (more likely, ignored) too many times to care. She doesn’t get it though, she keeps trying.
Flashback: During her years in HR, she slowly realized she probably wasn’t cut out for it. It took her an incredibly long time to realized that at least a part of the problem lay within, as it is with so many things we don’t really like.
Also, at the time her son, the TV addict had just lost his trusted lieutenant co-TV watcher (who never squealed on how much he really watched) and most reliable Ludo-competitor, his grandmother. With her passing, he was looking forward to an early teenage with the house and beloved television to himself. Someone had to be the villain in that perfect love story. Type of person we are dealing with here: Tends to pontificate, thinks she knows everything but scratch the surface and…, actually, please don’t.
Believes that humour makes the world go round, doesn’t really understand ‘serious’ things and wishes them away. Given to occasional bouts of insight, that’s when she writes at Some Sense, Some Nonsense.