And how does that make you feel?
I’m not sure if this question has ever been asked outside of a therapy session or a poorly written sitcom, but at some point in your life, you have been encouraged to share your feelings. Talk it out, say what’s on your mind, tell me what’s really bothering you. And maybe your response has been something like “Sure, I guess I could just tell you, since you are obviously unable to pick up on my various acts of passive aggression,” or maybe you sincerely poured your heart out and thought, “I should really do this more often.” And both of these are completely okay because everyone expresses themselves differently. But for some reason, it seems like people are more willing to listen to you if you’re older and supposedly mature. And if not, it can be hard to get people to listen at all. Exhibit A: Holden Caulfield.
Holden spends most of his narrative life wandering around the city of New York trying to find someone that will help him with his desperate existentialism. And, being the smart young man he is, he mostly enlists the help of acquaintances or complete strangers, ranging from nuns to prostitutes. For most of the book, Holden struggles to articulate what’s really bothering him, often jumping from topic to topic in attempts to discover some ultimate truth. A lot of times, his personal narration differs greatly from what’s actually occurring in the narrative. He’ll shout something “calmly” or he’ll engage in an activity that he would never be caught doing in a million years. But by the end of the novel, Holden finds someone who’s really willing to listen – his little sister Phoebe, who accepts Holden in all of his glorious hypocrisy.
So maybe Holden isn’t the prime example for effective self-expression, but he brings up an interesting question. Is it better to express yourself through words or actions? Well, it kind of depends on the situation. Take memoirs for example. The author is describing events that happened to them, interwoven with their own comments and reflections. If an author were simply to list the events that happened in his life, we would have little insight into how they affected him, regardless of how inspiring or traumatic such events might seem to us. Of course, many times, actions must speak for themselves. We live in a world of ambiguity, and, as Holden reveals, our society is built on a system of communication that requires us to say things we don’t really mean. Sometimes, it’s not smart or sociably acceptable to say things exactly how we think them. For instance, if you don’t enjoy someone’s company and she invites you to hang out, you can’t say, “No thanks, I don’t like you.” You can go spend time with her and tough it out as best you can, or you can give an excuse that is plausible enough to not arouse suspicion. Social convention forbids us from voicing unpopular opinions, yet it has trained us to imply what we are feeling through our actions.
The way we humans communicate is unnaturally complicated. Words have more than one meaning, and one person interprets language different than another person. Most of the time, we can only guess if someone’s words are sincere or if they have ulterior motives behind their actions. Our mediums of communication are so muddled that people now have to ask if you’re being sarcastic. And honestly, I’m not even sure myself.