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Sociability • Friendship • Communication

The Need for Processing 

One of the nicest things that young children do when they get back from school and have a loved one to hand is to begin to chit chat about all the events, large and small, that have happened to them since the day began at 8 am or so.

Margo has a new dog and apparently it’s called ‘doggie’, just ‘doggie’, and isn’t that just such a silly and boring name for a dog? Why not call it Zeus or Cuddlebuddle or something? What would a chimpanzee look like if you shaved it? Mr Willis is a big fat poo. He never washes and he thinks its normal to read books.

And on and on it goes. Small sallies of exploration and reflection. Chatter chatter until it’s time for supper and bathtime. If we had a spy satellite with which to pass over homes and listen in at around 5pm, that’s more or less all you’d hear of the human race.

Later on, when the small ones are asleep, the chatter continues between the adults – in a slightly different but substantially similar form: talk about bosses, missed trains, forgotten deadlines, sore ankles, rumbly tummies, annoying colleagues, a daydream about retraining or a fantasy of moving south.

It’s often said we are social creatures – but the full meaning of this gets hazy. What might truly be in play is that many of our pleasures, pains, questions and anxieties don’t feel real and might not even properly register within us until there is someone beside us who can listen, reflect back and confirm the legitimacy of what is coursing through us. We need, in order to know we exist, for someone in the vicinity to say ‘go on…’ or ‘how interesting…’, ‘that feels rotten, poor you’ or ‘don’t listen to them for a second’.

A worry won’t calm down until we’ve been able to describe it to another.  A beautiful experience won’t feel substantial until we’ve put it into words and someone has said, ‘gosh, that’s amazing, who would have thought’. We might not be able to value ourselves until we’ve relayed a small triumph and heard a friend saying, ‘Well done you, you’ve worked so hard for that.’ And we may not manage to forgive ourselves until we have confessed one of the many shameful silly things we do to a generous and complex-minded person who can respond with tact and empathy: ‘It’s OK, don’t keep beating yourself up about it. You said sorry; now you can move on…’

What’s bewildering is how simple it all sounds. One of the most crucial elements of our lives has the misfortune to unfold under the cover of banality. There’s therefore a danger that we’ll miss what’s sustaining us and fail to put an accurate finger on the causes of our anxieties and sorrows. Rather than understanding how isolated we have become, rather than fathoming how much we long for someone to say, ‘goodness me no, you have every right to feel as you do…’, we’ll drink or watch porn, spend money on silly things or give way to paranoia and fear. 

If we are feeling tetchy and out of sorts, if work or love seem to have lost their flavour, it may not be anything greater, but then again nor anything lesser, than that we have not had sufficient chance to explain ourselves and to hear small echoes of our cries and joys. We waste a lot of time failing to identify the true ingredients of contentment and the just targets of our ambitions. We should aspire – above anything else – to lay claim to one or two companions with whom we may every now and then have the immense privilege of processing the most recent new page or small paragraph in the book of our lives.

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