Have we lost the ability to communicate?

Over the holiday period we packed up the car, and like a scene from National Lampoons, headed off - exhaust pipe dragging along the ground, to visit my wife’s parents down in West Cork, writes Richard Hogan

They live in a beautiful part of this island. A place where peace comes dropping slow and cattle heave the clop of broken path.

It’s a place where the din of the maddening city is forgotten and stillness envelops the undulating landscape.

Quite simply, the place is magic. My bedroom overlooks the family homestead of Michael Collins. I often find myself day-dreaming, imagining what it must have been like for the Collins family when the Black and Tans turned up, with menace in their hearts.

It is a place steeped in history, the local pub (The Four Alls) belongs to a different time, the anachronistic oral tradition of story telling and song is very much alive there.

The people are welcoming too and always curious about your lineage and why and who you are visiting. Sam’s Cross is a special place and my children always look forward to their visit. Not only because their grandparents lavish them with such attention but also because of the space and silence they have there, something they lack living in a city like Dublin.

However, this year’s trip was particularly special. And it brought something up for me that I have often encountered as a theme in the therapeutic space.

As we all sat around the fire on the Friday night after Christmas silently watching TV, trolling through our phones and Ipads, my little nephew sending snapchats to an undisclosed recipient, there was a power cut.

And for a moment, there was a deadening silence, broken only by my father in law’s excitement for the opportunity to use his plethora of torches. The darkness in the country is different, it’s more absolute.

My daughter came running down from her sleep, the darkness had woken her. And she had never experienced a blackout before, so she didn’t understand what was going on.

We rang the ESB and were told it would take at least two hours to fix. This was met by groans from the teenagers in the room (no internet) and by some of the adults whose programmes would now remain unrecorded. For a moment we didn’t really know what to do. And then we lit a candle and started to talk. And then we really started to talk. I started by asking by father-in-law, who is nearing retirement, where he sees himself in five years and what advice would he give his twenty-year-old self now if he could?

This got the conversation moving nicely. He spoke, more to the fire than anyone in particular, about his early working life and about the dreams he had as a young engineer starting out in his profession and how he had felt blessed to work in a job he loved. He also spoke about his regret that he hadn’t travelled as much as he would have liked. He said to his young self, enjoy the journey more and don’t always be looking for the next thing. Try to be content with what you have.

My mother-in-law spoke about her early working life, before she had children and stopped working to raise them. She spoke warmly about her early adult life living in Ballinhassig with her great neighbours. I brought up the fact that my own mother was forced to give up her job by the government when she got married. The teenagers in the room couldn’t comprehend that piece of information. What do you mean they stopped her, sure how could they? This was the catalyst to an in-depth conversation on the ‘marriage bar’ and what it meant for women in Ireland. As the conversation was taking place free from the ubiquity of technology and the Internet I was reminded of the song ‘Bob Dylan’s Dream’. For in that moment we were all together, listening to each other and spilling our dreams and hopes for the future into the evening and learning things about each other we hadn’t known.

Often in therapy, couples come to me wondering how to build their levels of communication.

Something has happened to the couple and interrupted their way of communicating. So much so, they now find themselves in a bind because they do not communicate effectively with each other. This is certainly a theme I encounter on a regular basis. And I find myself wondering what impacts on a couple’s relationship that communication becomes stymied, almost awkward?

I can’t help but think that technology has disrupted our patterns of communication, making communication functional and abbreviated.

Couples often describe how they go on their phones to relax and unwind but because of this they don’t really talk to each other anymore and that has created a distance between them. This is such a common conversation in the modern therapeutic setting.

I was thinking about that as we were together in that room in West Cork, my daughter’s eyes dancing listening to her grandparents describe their early life. And in that moment sitting there, chatting about ourselves and our journey through life, I felt there was something happening that has been lost in modern relationships.

Have we allowed technology to take that from us? And even though there was a gentle sigh when the lights came on and the Wi-Fi booted up, we all fell comfortably back into our familiar modern way of being in the world, watching TV and scrolling through our phones. I have thought of Dylan’s words since that day ‘I wish, I wish, I wish in vain, that we’d sit simply in that room again.’

Her eyes danced listening to her grandparents talk of their early life.

Have we lost the ability to communicate?


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