I’ve ascertained that there are several different levels of conversation that tend to define how connected and good each party feels during and after. Three levels, really, based upon how far your words make it beyond where they’re formed inside your head. There is quite a spiritual connotation around the number 3, appropriate to the variations and wonders of communication. Mind//body//soul, third time’s a charm, and a lucky clover.
I remember discussing the concept of human connection with my father, and how author Franz Kafka questioned that humans could ever truly communicate. In his work, Kafka portrays the torturous, alienating divide that lies between individuals. How can we ever possibly communicate what goes on inside our heads honestly to another person? And how can we first be truly honest with ourselves? If you manage to communicate your intent, is anyone else capable of truly empathizing and understanding exactly what you feel?
This fatalist struggle plays a large role in modern interactions and what we talk about on a daily basis as “social anxiety.” Underneath it all is a burning desire to make a simple connection with another human being. While researching, I found a great article exploring Kafka’s work, and his presentation of our paradoxically futile attempts to communicate across unbreachable obstacles:
“a reminder of how desperately we want to be spoken to. We want to be addressed. We want there to be some important message out there for us. And yet: how futile it might be to hope for that…Despite the impossibility, we still…striv[e] to break through.”1
I am the type of person that likes to talk about her feelings with those close to her. In fact, it’s even a need. I have no trouble sharing my emotions and views with others. Choosing between large group settings for friendships, or one best friend, I’ll almost always prefer to have one confidante with whom I can share everything. I often can’t comprehend the concept of small talk, much less formulate it, and I find it even harder to do so when I don’t have that someone I can rely on to vent my ‘deeper’ feelings to later.
Maybe this isn’t something I should fight against, as I’ve had some incredible friends over the years who have proved that other like-minded people exist, and that you can form great, mutual relationships with them. But why am I inclined this way? Is it a desperate, fearful attempt to fill every empty hole in my life with meaning? Maybe there is equal meaning in words exchanged casually to fill the space.
People who hide their feelings or just prefer not to discuss them are like distant marionettes to me. They glide under transparent strings on a plane that briefly displays them before my eyes.
Many friends and acquaintances and family members in this world and ladies in the line at the grocery store and Bob from that cafe can all be absolutely anyone, thinking anything, many things, or nothing, and I won’t ever really know a thing about it!
I don’t share everything about myself either. Though sometimes I wish it were possible. That must mean that God or Allah or biology intended us to find satisfaction within ourselves, or at least within the little things. Thus, The Trinity of Conversation — a model of the three layers of communication within our great heaving mutual struggle for connection. Named conveniently for the symbolic number 3, and my own name.
The Trinity of Conversation:
In the Head.
This is the type of conversation that arises when your subconscious is strongly aware of the struggle for connection. Angst. The brain goes on defense, forming words that make it no farther than your own head. You begin to talk at someone, rather than to them, or just for the sake of talking. Afterwards you might come away realizing that you never actually really listened to what the other person was saying, or you might realise how tight and intense you were throughout the conversation. Nothing makes it into or out of the head.
Out of body.
Words are as light as helium, and seem to just exist out of your body. You are unaware of your own angst, of your own self, just letting the conversation exist. It becomes pretty interesting and it feels like an even connection, focused on no one. It’s not good because you’re taking an interest in the act of conversation per se, just satisfying because you realise that you weren’t focused at all in yourself. Your head quite relievingly out of your butt for a moment, you realise afterwards. It sits well, and right.
These are the laughing bellyaches and the moments at the park at dusk and the comfortable silences of mutual existence. When you’re discussing something important or just chatting and you realise you’re just everywhere — your own mind, your body, the air around, and the air coming in and out of each other’s lungs. Or, in Stephen Chbosky’s words, “infinite.” The funny thing is, when these moments occur, I think it’s because both people somehow choose it.
I don’t know if anyone can ever truly connect with anybody else in the same thought and the same moment and see the same “red” and “yellow” as the other person looking at the McDonald’s sign. But I think people can choose to let the words out of their head and into the world around them (a moment of personal triumph) and choose to connect. And by luck or the balance of your Karma Visa, two people can choose to connect in the same moment. The space between them fills with words which become more important than fear. You won’t view the moment in the same way, but you’ll know that in that moment the other person chose to connect, too.
Maybe that’s the best we can do. After all, even if we tried to raise our children in the same way, in the same environment, marinating in the same culture, the same music, the same icons…(Wow! They’d all know exactly what each other was talking about!) that would be promoting my generation’s already insipid remarks of “Same!” to a devastating new level. There really wouldn’t be much to discuss.
Therefore, if differences are necessary to conversation, growth, and to the joy of discovering similarities among a vast sea of disparity, how can we humans best relate?
The photograph of the three meditative figures above struck me immediately in relation to this topic. When I further researched the significance of the positions of these three figures, I discovered the Japanese proverb of The Three Wise Monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
This maxim has come to represent the crime of turning a blind eye in Western culture2, applied to situations such as a population’s or nation’s response to World Wars or genocides. This proverb and its accompanying images have a striking and somewhat sinister duplicity about them. The other, more positive interpretation that came to mind immediately was the idea of not feeding or perpetuating evil sentiments. Clear the mind, mouth, and ears to maintain innocence and promote kindness. I think this is a concept that many families are pushing to evolve in our society: keeping learning environments and social interactions clean from negative energies such as bullying or inappropriate content.
The concept of the Three Wise Monkeys coincides marvelously with the struggles that arise within human connection and interaction. Many can choose to remain silent or turn a blind eye to the struggles of themselves or others to connect, letting the fear and angst fester inside their head. However, surrounding yourself with people that create a healthy environment for yourself, releasing each other from the burdens of “evil” thought, can clear the air for positive connection.
Are the three monkeys wise?
That’s why it’s a proverb. Maybe to protect yourself from the torturous impossibility of true connection is best. Regardless, there will always be circumstances or emotions that will pull you back into your head. Some days finding somebody to connect with will feel impossible. But maybe that’s why there are three levels of conversation. What a relief it is to escape out of your head and body and let your words mingle with the fresh oxygen around you. And what a relief it is to have them settle back comfortably into your head, for a time. And what a treasure it is when they seem to be everywhere –up in the sky and down on earth. When your voices join in a single shout: “This is what it means to exist.”