Happy Thursday, friends. In this essay, we continue with a bottom-up exploration of the things we do to survive.

So far, I've shared my thoughts on breathing and eating. This week I move on to Talking. Hope you enjoy.



Talking Is Giving and Taking

Why do we talk? In most circumstances, a few gestures and grunts would suffice. Knowing the words for "this" and "that" takes you pretty far. You can get yourself a cup of coffee, or buy you a train ticket in a foreign land, or signal your territory to strangers.

But there is more to talk than acquiring, keeping, and taking.

I went to a friend's birthday party recently. On my way there, I received some personal news that brought out some complicated emotions. As a way to contemplate my unbalanced state, I chose not to speak much at the party.

Just observe your emotions and tics, I thought to myself. These feelings will pass, they will reintegrate with my body, and I will find a better, stronger balance.

I had a wonderful time at the party. But a few friends wondered if I was doing okay. Gaps in conversation that I would previously fill with more words remained long and empty.

In those moments without words, all that remained was eye contact between two people. I noticed some friends' gazes quickly flicker away. I felt my own gaze desperately plea for an escape.

Talking Is Armor

In a world of grunts and points, there is little trust. Given enough space and distance, gruntman can learn to feel safe.

Yet here we were, twenty animals in the same room, somehow not tearing each other apart for our wallets, Canada Goose jackets, and sex organs.

Talking is armor, a protective shield. We've all talked enough to "know" who each other are. And we've talked enough to "know" who we are. 

They may seem spontaneous and real, but these conversations are often no more than trust-building scripts. We repeat them to others, we repeat them to ourselves.

How's work? Where do you go to school? Where do you live? Are you responding to me with a slight smile and a hint of playfulness? If you succeed at my language game, I will find you likable.

Talking Is Co-Constructing

Talking is Wittgenstein's Ruler. A ruler measures the table, but also, the table measures the ruler. The ruler and the table co-construct each other's reality.

Talking is co-constructive. We construct our personalities in each other's presence. I try on one mask, you try on another, and we allow (or forbid) each other to rearrange what we wear and how we wear it. We like some masks because they let us hide more effectively.

What is co-construction? Psychologist Philippe Rochat calls it the fateful loop of meaning-making, in which you are simultaneously the object of experience and the subject of experience. You see others, and others see you.

How do you know who you are except through what others see you as? How do you know what others are except through what you see in them?

Construct your reality, construct the reality of others, with richer scripts, richer language, and richer conversation.

Yet this seems quite ... limited and simulated.

Talking Is Being

Talking is no longer needing to speak. A few friends, the ones I feel closest to, in that gap in conversation, held their gaze steady. Our eyes locked unflinchingly in silence. Without words, we talked:

"I see you."
"I see you."

Chills down my spine. I feel safe. I feel home.

My brother has a white Himalayan cat. He's raised her well; she's a sweetheart. We communicate without words. I left her up, I bring my nose to hers, and she closes the gap by bringing hers to mine.

She licks my face and gazes at me.

"I see you."
"I see you."

Chills down my spine. I feel safe. I feel home.
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