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Is it good to talk?

January 2005 

 

Heather Redmond

 Is it good to talk?

 Heather Redmond doesn’t think so

It’s good to talk we’re told. Constantly told in fact. Told by counsellors, by parents, by friends, by BT.
‘Talk to me’, ‘get it off your chest’, ‘penny for your thoughts’, ‘why don’t you say something?’, ‘what are you thinking about?’… We’re bombarded with expectations and instructions.

I’ve had all this thrown at me at various times in my life and felt deeply resentful. I hadn’t realised, until enlightened by an office colleague, that my silences were sometimes experienced as annoying, intimidating or downright hostile.  


“We don’t know what you’re thinking,” she said.
Such power - was I really the sort of person who could intimidate just by keeping my mouth shut?

What I had been thinking, in fact, was that I felt too intimidated and unconfident to speak up. Nowadays I sit more comfortably with my silence, particularly in new situations, having been told that when I do say something it’s usually to the point. Keeping my mouth shut doesn’t work with compulsive talkers however, many of whom need to fill the silences, the spaces between when we draw breath.

By compulsive talkers I mean those who appear to be constitutionally unable to listen to anyone else’s stuff. A second’s pause and they’re off with the ball and running. Do they never come up for air? Are they ever interested in anyone else’s voice? Why should I even bother if they’re not?

My world is divided into listeners and talkers, and by nature and inclination I’m a listener. Probably goes back to childhood and the family mantra which said ‘thou shalt be seen and not heard’.

As kids at the dinner table, we were told with great regularity to keep quiet so the grown-ups could talk. With equally great regularity we watched the grown-ups struggling to fill the silences and felt smug.

Perhaps my childhood hang-ups did me a favour. Turned me into a social worker, counsellor and writer. Listening to people’s stories is what I do – professionally. And socially it never used to worry me that talkers showed little interest in my own stories. Now, however, I get enraged and wonder if my rage is just part of growing up or the first signs of lost marbles? Or am I just really really boring?

I don’t think so - well, sometimes, as we all are, aren’t we?
As a sentient human being, I think I’m entitled to some air-time, and while I realise that compulsive talkers need listeners for their very survival, in the process they are breaching my human rights.

Strasbourg next stop?

 

In this month's Talkback Column Helen responds to Heather's article with Here’s talking to you, kid

 


   

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