Language without words

Posted at 08/22/2014 3:37 AM

“If you do not understand my silence, you will never understand my words” is a beautiful quotation from an unknown source. Between two people who really know each other--and who really love each other, a glance, a touch or even just a sigh can convey so much. Between a parent and a child, pursed lips and raised eyebrows or a scowl can only mean “Stop that!” or “Don’t you dare!”. Between two people in cahoots, it may mean “let’s take this one for a ride” or “don’t tell I’m fibbing”.

Conveying messages

Body language, gestures or signals may take the place of language sometimes, but they are not always effective means of communication. Two people have to know each other really well for them to know what those gestures or signals mean.

The spoken or written word, conversations--may seem vague at times because languages have cultural nuances--but with sufficient effort, they usually put messages across more efficiently. Such vagueness is double-edged though, as it could keep you within the “safe” zone or be misinterpreted.

But even more effort is needed to develop a language without words; it requires sensitivity and sincerity. And though there are “universal” signals that members of that society are assumed to understand, certain groups also develop their own.

Clues and cues

Like most males of his generation, my father seldom talked about his feelings. In fact, he never really told me he loved me. Instead, he showed me he did. He would patiently wait for me during my rehearsals in high school. Rebellious as I was, he never gave up on me. And neither did my mom. She was more outspoken than he was but always, she’d remind me that they wanted what they thought was best for me. There were times when I’d say nice things about her new dress and I’d find it in my closet after it’s been washed! Sometimes, understanding clues and cues requires a little more effort.

I thought I’d change things by telling my own children how I felt about them. Perhaps there were times when they were overwhelmed by my fussing over them. When asked about how he felt about something unpleasant, one of my sons replied, “I get irritated when you do that!” I understood that he thought I was overreacting.

Anticipating needs and wants

I try to explain my feelings to my children. As regards their own lives, I remind them that the choice remains theirs, though I need to convey my thoughts and feelings. I find that having done so for years has made it easier for us to anticipate each other’s needs and preferences.

Often, we still validate certain assumptions or expectations by asking. For example, I told my coffee-drinkers that I would appreciate it if they made me a cup whenever they had coffee. They ask how many cups I’ve had because they know I try to have a maximum of three per day.

For my part, I keep mental tabs on their preferences--colors, clothes, food, knick-knacks. I also ask them whether I got it right--whenever I can. I only hope my memory does not fail me later.

If this goes on, perhaps someday, we may no longer need to ask. By then, we’d be speaking the language without words!