September 25, 2012

MUSE: Why Are We Afraid to Talk?

A recent kerfuffle (great word) among friends got me thinking about the value of open communication. People say there's a fine line between being "open" and being "honest" - being open means you're willing to talk, being honest means you're willing to tell the truth. Our society teaches and rewards honesty on many levels, but being open is an individual choice, and most of us don't give it much thought.

Until it causes a problem. In this particular instance, a group of us were coordinating an evening with a friend from out of town. A combination of emails, phone calls and general confusion led to hurt feelings, bad reactions and a shutdown of communications. The logistics of where, when and how threatened to overwhelm the intended spirit of camaraderie. Fortunately, it all worked out in the end. We met for dinner, chatted until after the sun set and went our separate ways. Nothing was said about the earlier confusion. All's well that ends well, right? And yet it wasn't. I could feel the chill, and it wasn't from the September evening.
I came home wondering about our ability to sweep things under the rug. Why are we so afraid to talk about feelings? I'm as awkward as anyone when it comes to this, and I know we were all brought up with good intentions. "If you have nothing nice to say," we were told, "Don't say anything at all." My wonderful Aunt Barb keeps an eye on family conversations, and if she senses we're going somewhere controversial, she makes a quick movement of her fingertips across her mouth – Zip it!

Keeping the peace is important. I guess the trick is to know when to shut up and when to speak up. Most of us, though, choose to be silent and cautious. Yet silence can breed resentment, harbour insecurity, and may even contribute to depression. Suppression and repression of our emotions have a detrimental effect on our mental health, individually and collectively. So why do we cringe from it? Do we equate sharing our emotions with weakness and shame? Will we all end up like Clint Eastwood, strong and silent, talking to an empty chair? 

Go ahead, I say. Make my day. Talk about it. Get it out in the open. Let's all play in the mud. We're not perfect, we're not super strong, we make mistakes and we screw up. We get angry with each other, and we get over it. It's just so much easier when it's addressed openly as well as honestly. Even if it's difficult going in, there is usually relief and a better understanding on the other side. Nothing easy is worthwhile, nothing worthwhile is easy.


  1. Thanks for the link, Lorrie. I enjoyed your post! Some people exhibit real grace and manage to speak the truth honestly in a way that respects other people. I've noticed these people often observe a situation while refraining from comment. I'm not sure if that is repression/supression or seeking to understand rather than to be understood.

    1. Very good point, Stephanie. The ability to "act" versus "react" is equated with maturity in my mind. These are all threads of a wonderful tapestry that we're weaving with our written observations. Thank you for your perspective.

  2. I agree, it is often how some things are said instead of the actual content. Also, the receiver of said information may not be receptive for reasons other than the issue at hand. People and their emotions are complicated and that may be the reason we avoid being otally open and honest at all times.
    That's why we distinguish between those with which we are truely ourselves, as in "best friends", and others. Hoping , of course, that those that love us will forgive any transgressions that we make.

  3. You make some very astute observations, P3of5 - emotions are complicated, and we do have different arrangements with "close" friends than we might have with acquaintances.


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