News, Off Campus, Column

Words Not Required

Hamlet once remarked about the incessancy of “words, words, words,” and how communication and language is, at times, bewildering. In an ever-globalizing world, non-verbal and technological communication has become the norm, making antiquated ways of communicating obsolete in many situations. In the spirit of a silent retreat I recently took part in, I have been noticing the prevalence of non-verbal communication in our generation, as well as questioning the nature of communication itself and the ability to communicate without always utilizing speech.

If I thought that technological forms of communication were popular in the U.S., I was clearly not thinking about the Philippines. Known as the “Facebook and texting capital of the world” (a legitimate title), this place is addicted to non-verbal communication. Facebook, Twitter, texting, anything that isn’t a direct interaction seems to be popular among the younger generations. Some dramatic curmudgeon may see this as the apocalypse of human interaction as we know it, but perhaps it is merely an adaptation to the changing nature of the times. While I’d personally take a one-on-one conversation over a cup of tea over a Facebook message any day, it is valid that perhaps technological communication domination is symbolic of the growing nature of globalization, a necessary adaptive tool in order to communicate to people of all walks of life in all kinds of locations.

Living in the Philippines has presented many challenges, but none seem as apparent on a day-to-day basis as language. I am unfortunately not a fluent Tagalog speaker-in fact, I can hardly even form a simple sentence. Working in communities where English is rarely spoken, I’ve had to adapt. How I would normally talk to an eight-year-old at home in English must be changed when talking to a similar eight-year-old Tagalog speaker who looks at me like I’m crazy when I try and speak English to her. So what is an English-speaker to do? St. Francis of Assisi once said that a good Catholic should try to preach the gospel, and if necessary, use actual words. While I am writing from a purely secular perspective, I believe that a similar idea applies here. When one is forced to convey his or her thoughts without language, actions and symbolic gestures are key. When language fails to convey a powerful message or idea, actions are the necessary next step.

In both scenarios, adaptation is constant. Communication does not have to exist solely in the realm of language, and it can be spread out through many mediums. Speaking eloquently may not always contain expressive and advanced vocabulary, but it could be as basic as a hand squeeze to a friend in need of support. Despite the thousands languages being spoken all at once or the constant buzz of technology waiting to be utilized for the same purposes, non-verbal communication has the power to unite people that previously would have no reason to co-exist together otherwise. While Shakespeare may have a love-hate relationship with “words, words, words,” I see them as some of life’s greatest gifts, and also ones that we can learn to use in new, adaptable, and inventive ways.

April 2, 2014