I’ve been thinking lately about speaking less. The irony of using a post to share this does not escape me. But how many times a day do we fill our lives with useless words? Trivial commentary that gets us nowhere, rhetorical questions that waste one’s breath, small talk?
I think about questions specifically. We ask each other questions not because we are looking for knowledge but rather, permission. As kind as it is to seek permission, what it actually does is inflate the number of choices that need to be made.
For example, I noticed that I ask the following questions of my husband on the daily.
- Is this enough food? (when piling on a plate)
- Do you want to sit here? (when deciding where to perch at a restaurant, coffee shop or even at home)
- What do you want to do today? (or tonight, this week, or weekend)
- What do you want to eat for dinner? (or breakfast or lunch)
- Do you want coffee this morning? (or tea in the evening)
- Shall we watch something tonight? (when deciding what else to clutter our minds with)
All of these questions are not rhetorical and require a response.
All of them give him additional decisions to make.
All of them are quite unnecessary.
I think about how many more I ask at work. I think about how this asking affects our lives. As if we didn’t have enough decisions to make. It’s no wonder we live in overwhelm. By asking permission, we are creating more decisions to make. In our empathy, we are wasting brain power on making choices in a society already suffering from the paradox of choice.
It’s no wonder that children these days have no direction. There are too many choices to choose from and they are so busy choosing from an early age that they never learn how to focus on one. I hear parents ask children what they want to eat for dinner. I remember growing up and never being asked that question. We simply ate whatever was on the table. More brain-power for play time outdoors. I see parents asking kids what color backpack they want for the first day of school. My parents just went and purchased my supplies for us without even taking us to the store with them. More brain-power for focusing on getting ready for the Fall semester. I see parents proudly say that their kids chose what to wear today. I wore a uniform until middle school. Think of the brain power it takes to have a kid decide what to wear, then compare them self socially with what their desk mate wore, then go home and look to their closet and see what they can wear the next day to be at least equal with their desk mate. With Christmas around the corner, I bet kids will be writing down their lists. I didn’t write a list for my family until I was thirteen years old. My parents just bought us what they think we would want, or better yet, what we needed.
It’s no wonder college students have no idea what they want to do in life. A majority of them go to undergrad undeclared. When I was in undergrad ten years ago, half of my friends had switched majors before graduating. My own brother switched direction AFTER undergrad. Many younger people get multiple masters in different fields. Some of my closest high school friends didn’t figure out what they wanted to do until they were 25. In dental school, a quarter of the dental students had switched careers. We had engineers, doctors, lawyers, with the oldest student in his 50’s. There is simply too many choices to make.
We have created this fallacy that we live in a world where we are free to choose. But we are constantly making choices, and we have lost the freedom to accomplish much of anything else.
It’s no wonder we get home at the end of a work-day exhausted. Then to have to answer if the food on the plate is enough?! Why do we waste such energy?
I am trying to be better. I am trying to simply put food on the plate, and accept that if he wants more, he will go back for seconds. I am going to just pick a spot to sit. If he wishes to sit elsewhere, I will trust that he will say so. I am simply going to make a batch of coffee and pour half into my cup. If he ends drinking the other half, I can make a second batch if needed. Instead of asking what he wants to do this weekend, I will tell him what I would like to do and see what he responds with.
We don’t need to speak so much.
If we truly want to practice empathy, let us empathize with the excess that we all already deal with.
Let us reduce the overwhelm so that we can reserve our brain waves for the decision-making that is more important.