Body Language More Telling Than Words

Sometimes, reality becomes somewhat of a relative truth and I am only just starting to realise that as I grow older. I do not mean this simply based on the fact that our realities depend on our different backgrounds and environments – though these are very important factors – but mainly because, on top of these factors, our perspectives tend to vary depending on the moment.

I have come to notice that principles, values and convictions tend to change depending on the emotions that are felt in certain moments of our lives. By that, I am not referring to religious convictions or deep rooted beliefs one may have, but rather to the values and principles that are tying us to the social order of the communities we live in.

I recently witnessed two people who were madly in love for so many years, in a moment of trouble completely forgetting the good times they had experienced and getting at each other’s throats. I started wondering what it was that could prevent anyone from seeing eye to eye on certain issues and dealing with the problem in a mature and constructive manner when faced with a problem after many good years.

For example, understanding that divorce rates are rising all over the world, it made me try to understand if there could be a correlation between our generation and the fact that everything is readily available to us – especially in terms of communication. We evolve, our social construct evolves and our dealings with others evolves; but, it got me wondering if it is evolving for the better?

How is our somewhat evolved communication making interactions, relationships, even business better or worse? Do you feel like you are living in a more remote or rather a more virtual world than the one you grew up in? If you are from my generation and maybe a few years younger than myself as well, you might remember being introduced to mobile phones and computers at a much later age than today’s generation.

Has being constantly connected disconnected us by the time we actually get together? There is a reason I bring this up; imagine living in a world where computers, mobile phones and recent technological advancements did not exist and would not come into existence. Now imagine how communication might have been – can you see it?

In 1971, Albert Mehrabian discussed non-verbal communication in his book ‘Silent messages’, after conducting research. Some might agree and some might not that his results are accurate, but we do not all need to agree on this matter, maybe just understand. Among those that have debunked this theory was a certain Phil Yaffe, who went as far as to say “have you ever heard the adage that communication is only seven percent verbal and 93pc non-verbal? You probably have, and if you have any sense at all, you have ignored it”.

According to Phil, non-verbal communication can only convey emphasis and emotion, and is merely supportive to verbal communication, the actual message conveyor, by stating that “if words are incapable of getting the message across, no amount of gestures and tonal variations will do it”. He proved his refutation of this ‘adage’ as he calls it, by admitting that though we live in a visual world, most information is still promulgated in written form, where tonal variety and body language play no role, because even interaction via the Internet is still written. Is it not changing though?

What if we paid a bit more attention to the sounds of words? However, which words are we talking about? And which sounds exactly? It is like talking about food, would you not say? Talking to an Italian about Ethiopian Food, to an Ethiopian about French food and the possibilities are endless. Now imagine talking to someone about food to someone from all three, where injera and its different sauces are started off by salad and cheese and followed by a tiramisu… now imagine that with languages!

The flavours, the smells, and the clinging and clanging would be beautiful, but imagine the mess. Cleaning up in that kitchen would not be an easy task. I don’t know about you, but I would sure eat there. Each language resonates at a different frequency; in fact, when zooming in, I realised that each word has its own frequency in each respective language.

Like a ladle would not evoke the same feelings of slight hunger pangs in my stomach as a mamasseya (a stirring utensil) would, simply because I was told as a young eight-year-old to pass it to my great-grandmother or my mother when they cooked, and I knew then that food was almost ready. The understanding of words in more than one language made me realise that each language had a set of instruments in a bigger orchestra playing inside my head – distinctive yet interrelated to each other.

And imagine that if, in order to move from one language to another, one would only need to follow the most familiar sounds by assimilating the sound to words, taste, smell, feel and anything else.

If following the understanding that sounds and everything we assimilate with words, but also with every other sense, is important, then can we apply the same logic in our relationships with people when it comes to establishing healthy communications? Whereby a single altercation is not a decisive instance in a relationship that we have and that it does not have to determine the end?

Sometimes, tonalities, intonations, words and voice pitch do not give the entire picture – just as much as the words used, the setting and the situation alone will not allow you to see the whole truth. If as much as we would try to understand the power of putting all of these elements together to understand the meaning of words, such as the aforementioned mammaseya, would we be capable of doing the same on the human level?


By Christine Yohannes
Christine Yohannes writes about social change, performs at public events and conducts poetry workshops in schools. She has established a monthly event entitled

Published on Oct 25,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 860]



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