There’s a difference between being heard and being understood. Being able to understand someone implies an ability to make sense of the language with which they use to communicate. Since the dawn of our earliest days language has been incredibly useful. Language is what allows us to accumulate knowledge between generations which has played an integral role in our evolution. Furthermore, it allows us to relate on an interpersonal and perhaps even an interplanetary level.
For decades scientists have sent a steady stream of messages into the cosmos in an attempt to reach life on other planets. Recently, we have even sent text messages to known habitable planets. But so far, no reply. “Of course not!” you might say, “Aliens don’t exist! We are the only intelligent life forms in our entire universe!” Nevermind the fact that humans didn’t always roam this planet. Nevermind the fact that even within our solar system there are other habitable planets with conditions just right for life to emerge. Nevermind the fact that the universe expands far beyond the realm of what we are able to observe here on Earth. And nevermind the fact that our universe is… how old? It is believed, then, that the reason aliens do not respond to our attempts is because they do not understand them. And so, scientists have tried communicating using a universal language–mathematics. Their goal “has not only been to send aliens information about Earth, but to tell them about what it means to be human; to go beyond a description of our physical world to describe something like our sense of beauty” (Thank you, science channel).
Why is this so important? Why does anyone care about communicating to others their personal experiences even in this world? Why share our trials and tribulations with strangers? Why are we so driven to be heard?
For perhaps instinctual reasons within our evolution as humans, we have developed the ability to make intelligent, complex sounds that have acquired meaning over time. This has allowed us to participate in a shared past and future so that we can not only talk about and thus learn from where we’ve been in the past but also discuss where we’re going as we plan for a better future. The very essence of a shared social experience includes the ability to come to a similar understanding of the events that occur which help to shape our lives. Indeed, language is not just a way to label objects. Language, in fact, has embedded within it ways of looking at the world. So, “thinking and perception are not only expressed through language but are also shaped by language. Rather than objects and events forcing themselves onto our consciousness, it is our very language that determines our consciousness, and hence our perception, of objects and events” (Some old sociology textbook I actually opened up again).
We all have a language… our very own “love language” I’d like to call it. Sounds like something you’d hear about on Oprah but what it refers to is the lessons we are taught with regards to the way we perceive love… how we treat someone we love and how we should feel in a “loving” relationship. When we choose to invest ourselves in another person, we do so with the idea (the hope) that that person speaks our language. We connect with them based not only on having worked through similar life experiences but on perceiving and interpreting those experiences in such a way that their love language is one we can understand and ours is one that they understand. Without having that as a very basic foundation, a relationship will not thrive despite any loving feelings that may remain. To be sure, “to not share a language while living alongside one another is to open up suspicions and miscommunications” (same old textbook). And it leads one to feel like an alien in their own home.
This is a feeling I am all too familiar with. However, I learned to speak the same love language as my family nevertheless. It was a language of denial. Experts will tell you that food is love. Even my therapist spat that out to me when I told her about my 5 year old son who has a hard time verbally communicating to me when he is hungry. Instead, at times he’ll signal to me that he is hungry by patting and rubbing his tummy with a troubled look on his face expecting me to feed him. Attempts to encourage him to use his words often fall short and the foods I offer are never to his satisfaction. He may even take it to the next level of desperation by throwing himself to the floor, whining and throwing a huge fit. My therapist suggested I try using “I” statements, such as, “When you don’t tell me what I can get for you I feel sad because I want to help you if you’re hungry.” I’ve tried this method in various situations and so far it’s actually improved his communication–and mine–a lot. I’m not expecting perfection, but a better way of resolving conflict and getting what we both want.
It’s true, though: Food is love. As an adolescent, I scrutinized, denied, binged and purged food for years before I finally realized… this is stupid! Was I trying to look like all the skinny, clueless women in every ad and magazine? Yeah. I think that I thought that if I looked like that someone may actually be capable of loving me. But at the same time, I resented society’s standards and threw my nose up at women and men for thinking beauty could ever be so one dimensional (almost literally). Certainly, there was more to it than wanting to conform to some obtuse ideal.
We cannot argue the power of love. Love is sustaining. It is a life force. It is what drives us all to contribute even the tiniest shred of decency to the world. It can be said, then, that denying ourselves one of our most basic needs–food–we are in fact denying that which we feel has been withheld from us–LOVE. In high school I would often find myself sneaking into the kitchen late at night. It was something I would anticipate and plan out in my head hours ahead of time: What and how much am I going to eat? Who do I run the risk of getting caught by and which bathroom should I use afterwards? Always, always, always I would eat so much in so little time that I felt I had no choice but to make myself throw up. I felt guilty for giving in to such a very basic desire/need. So I thought I had to conceal my “weakness” by expelling any trace of ever having such a need. And even though I knew the absurdity of what I was doing all along, it was something I had to work through before I finally threw my hands up and said, “enough is enough” and was ready to begin adopting a new mindset.
So here I am. Still working through an old mindset of denying myself that which sustains. But I’m starting with me. It’s just taken a few false starts to get here. And I’m okay with that. What I must acquire, I now see, is the ability to practice what I preach to my son when I tell him to “use his words”. I shouldn’t expect a mind reader, just someone who understands my language and understands my needs. But first I must accept that I have needs. And that I am entitled to the most basic of them all……..