The Unreliability of Vocal Dialogue

I have been in a variety of vocal conversations (ie: in person/face to face), and I meditate and reflect after each one. Literally without exception. I do this so often that I began to notice a pattern within myself: I can’t seem to say exactly what I want to say, when I want to say it. I took this thought a step further, and I began to realize that if there were a significant enough people who are just like me, it has tremendous implications on the nature of common dialogue, and how unreliably misleading it can be.

I have watched many formal debates in my life, both political and religious. However, I want to address religious theological debates in particular. On multiple occasions, one person would struggle to extemporaneously say what they believed, and the other person would pounce on the perceived weakness. Then when they think of a more detailed and helpful explanation to put words to what swims around inside them, the other person then accuses them of changing the position or being contradictory. In other words, we do not seem to allow people the room to refine their outward words to correctly align with their inward beliefs. Instead, we assume that every spoken word a person utters is precisely what that person wants to say and how they want to say it.

Writing seems to be different. As I write this, I do not need to follow the unspoken rules of face to face conversation. Rules such as: “You must think and respond within three seconds.” I have time to prepare what it is I want to say. Or, more accurately stated, I have time to prepare the combination of words that best align themselves with the unspoken words within me. When speaking extemporaneously, I do not always find the best combination on the first attempt, because I am often not given the opportunity to think it through.

As a real example, on one occasion I was in a conversation about dyslexia. I said that when I reflected on my own dyslexia, I realized how there is a kind of balance to things. Though my dyslexia made me deficient in reading comprehension, it made me far exceed my peers in visual memory. After saying this, I said something general like, “That’s why I believe for every deficiency that exists, there is something exceptional to counterbalance it.” However, even though my words were generalized, my thoughts were not. In my mind, I was thinking of three deficiencies in particular: dyslexia, down syndrome, and autism. And yet, my words did not accurately align with my thoughts. However, because my words were generalized, this led to the skeptical response, “Do you think that’s true in all cases, though?” If this were a debate, I would have immediately been labeled contradictory if I replied with the truth and said “No,” because my generalized spoken words immediately condemned my specific unspoken words. I would then need the time to clarify that my first attempt at articulating my unspoken words was a failure. Hence the problem with verbal communication.

This troublesome situation leads me to believe that written words are more likely to accurately represent what a person thinks, rather than spoken words. Though, it is also possible to write in haste and fall into the same trap. There are many times when I write, my thoughts do not come in chronological order, and I often have to shift paragraphs around to make it a linear progression. Upon further reflection, it is quite possible that I discover I could have better articulated even this very post.

Therefore, it seems to me that we as human beings should graciously give others the benefit of the doubt when they say things that may rub us the wrong way, or don’t sound quite right, because they likely did not have enough time to reflect and accurately articulate what they truly wanted to say. I will freely admit, I am a much better writer than I am a speaker, so the times I verbalized what I didn’t mean to say far exceeded the times I verbalized what I did mean to say. Though, contemplating my own shortcomings has given me a deeper sense of love and understanding for others, and I suppose that is all I could ask for.

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