masen, 20 April 2012

Over to the left of the restaurant, a small group of college students are conversing with each other. Judging by their body language, it's fairly clear that only one of them knows everyone else at the table. Maybe the others know a few names.

I can feel the tension, the emotional guards, and the nervousness: "I'm in a group of people, what should I say next?". The control in these situations is often primal and rooted in the ego. The group dynamic is such that low-quality statements are made for the sake of filling the void. Perhaps I feel like what I have to say is of value, but unfortunately it's likely not. How could I positively contribute to a conversation that I'm only half listening to? Extrapolate this 'anti-social' behavior across the group and the end result is cheap 'small-talk' or worse, bro speak. Nothing is real.

Why do we behave in such ways. Those of us who practice Active Listening will know that it requires much more effort than trying to garner group attention by blurting whatever your brain thinks is the coolest thing at the time. Listening is a major factor to advancing the conversation and keeping it interesting. Listening is the only way to have real interactions.

So where am I going with this? A common group meme which I observe is something I'll refer to as "the void-filling adjunctive". In this case I'm referring to the void in conversation which occurs when the group is processing what was just stated and reading the body language of the room. The purpose of the void-filling adjunctive is to connect disjoint parts of the conversation or to prevent any sort of thought between statements when no one can think of the next thing to say.. I find it's commonly expressed after about 15 seconds of silence as "AWkward!", or "Awkward silence", or *looks around room* *begins laughing".  There are others, anything which fits this purpose works.

Is there something wrong with this though? Yes.

  1. It breaks the flow of thought
  2. It's artificial and adds nothing to the conversation
  3. It's an obnoxious and dirty habit

There can be cases where a void-filling adjunctive can be hilarious or has some other value to add as a rhetorical tool. Primarily it introduces noise into our lives. It's a very subtle observation, but it leads to the revelation of something much greater: "we" fill our lives with noise subconsciously and purposefully because we don't want to think.

The key is that it's subconscious. Asking people on the street whether they like to think or appreciate noise in their life will not yield this conclusion. However, actions speak louder than words, and in our actions we see the intent of the subconscious revealed plainly.

Look around America: it is culturally valued to surround yourself with entertainment, from smartphones to tablets, television, iPods, cars, or shiny things. Whatever is your noise of choice, it remains that it is still noise. It's not real. And it's getting louder every year. Culturally displacing thought and awareness for external stimuli degrades the quality of our existence, our connection with each other, and most importantly, our connection with our essence.

An important realization that I'm making in my journey is that it's difficult and worthwhile to increase the signal to noise ratio in my life. Reducing the noise increases awareness, and awareness increases balance.

When I'm so distracted by all the noise, when I give my attention, my focus, and my fucks to the noise, it's hard to remain fixed on the bigger picture of what matters in life: Nothing.