The Problems of Interpersonal Communication in Modern Day Living

Foreword : In today’s modern world, when material prosperity over rides emotional compatibility, and when computers and gizmos have redefined culture, the younger generation, called GEN X by the popular media, is unable to communicate from the viewpoint of emotional maturity, more often than not, they fail to understand relationships…..

‘Imagine you’re in London’s Heathrow Airport. While you’re waiting for your flight, you notice a kiosk selling shortbread cookies. You buy a box, put them in your traveling bag and then you patiently search for an available seat so you can sit down and enjoy your cookies. Finally you find a seat next to a gentleman. You reach down into your traveling bag and pull out your box of shortbread cookies. As you do so, you notice that the gentleman starts watching you intensely. He stares as you open the box and his eyes follow your hand as you pick up the cookie and bring it to your mouth. Just then he reaches over and takes one of your cookies from the box, and eats it! You’re more than a little surprised at this. Actually, you’re at a loss for words. Not only does he take one cookie, but he alternates with you. For every one cookie you take, he takes one.

Now, what’s your immediate impression of this guy? Crazy? Greedy? He’s got some nerve?! Can you imagine the words you might use to describe this man to your associates back at the office? Meanwhile, you both continue eating the cookies until there’s just one left. To your surprise, the man reaches over and takes it. But then he does something unexpected. He breaks it in half, and gives half to you. After he’s finished with his half he gets up, and without a word, he leaves.

You think to yourself, “Did this really happen?” You’re left sitting there dumbfounded and still hungry. So you go back to the kiosk and buy another box of cookies. You then return to your seat and begin opening your new box of cookies when you glance down into your travelling bag. Sitting there in your bag is your original box of cookies — still unopened.

Only then do you realize that when you reached down earlier, you had reached into the other man’s bag, and grabbed his box of cookies by mistake. Now what do you think of the man? Generous? Tolerant? You’ve just experienced a profound paradigm shift. You’re seeing things from a new point of view. Now, think of this story as it relates to your life. Things may not be what they seem. Seeing things from a new point of view can be very enlightening….’ – This is reproduced as it is from “Point of View”, a story by Joe Gracia

My friend Sanal Kumar told me the following story : Imagine a scene where a man is driving uphill on a narrow ghat road. Suddenly, out of the blue, a car comes rushing from the opposite direction, towards him and almost dashes against him. Before he recovers, his adrenalin has shot up and he looks out of his car window angrily to shout at the other driver, when the lady driver of the other car, looks out and shouts at our friend, “Pig!” – Even more adrenalin rises, and our friend, with all anger, shouts, “*&@#&%!” and races the car over the bend, and suddenly, in front of him, stands a huge pig. Unable to brake at such short notice, he hits the pig – then he realises that the same experience must have happened to the lady who passed him by, and that she was not calling him a pig, but was actually warning him that a pig was standing in the middle of the road around the bend. Here, again, the man experienced a profound paradigm shift in his PERCEPTION when he knew the truth.

In both the examples listed above, the individual experienced a paradigm shift – Just what is needed in improving most interpersonal communication, especially within the families. Paradigm shifts are nothing but our ability to see a problem from a different perspective altogether.

Today, modern technology has given us much more than we can hope for in communicating with the outside world, and yet, we alienate ourselves from our near and dear ones. We have the telephone, the internet, the pager, the cellphone, the SMS facility, the MMS facility, the email, and what not to communicate with the outside world – and yet, we remain isolated within our family relationships. We try to telephone, SMS, MMS, email and message to our neighbour sitting in the next building. We take great pains to email and telephone than take the effort of taking a few steps to visit a neighbour or a friend.

Modern Day Living compels us to live life in the fast track, busy catching up with the Jones living next door that we hardly have time to be with ourselves or our closest relatives. In his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen R. Covey laments about the dying habit of Family Dinners where the members of a family get together not just for eating, but for emotional bonding. Family Dinners are the ideal platform for interpersonal communication within the family. But most of the families today have no time to eat to-gether. This is true especially in families where both the parents are employed – They hardly have time for each other, let alone eating together – In such a world of fast living, bereft of understanding, what can be expected but spilled values out of a fast food can?

We forget, that by and large, our ancestors lived a life uncomplicated by modern technology – so much so that life was actually simple. Today, inspite of having so much of hi-tech gadgets, we are unable to appreciate the simple things in life. If we are able to appreciate the gifts that God/Nature/Providence (whatever you call it) have blessed us with, then we become grateful in life for all our relationships – be it a spouse, a friend, a boss, a colleague, a co-worker, a neighbour, an acquaintance – whatever – then our communication flows from the heart, bereft of ego – and we are able to communicate better. The blessings that we enjoy in our daily life is summarised in this poem sent by my friend Greg Coelho:-

If you woke up this morning

with more health than illness,

you are more blessed than the

million who won’t survive the week.

If you have never experienced

the danger of battle,

the loneliness of imprisonment,

the agony of torture or

the pangs of starvation,

you are ahead of 20 million people

around the world.

If you attend a church meeting

without fear of harassment,

arrest, torture, or death,

you are more blessed than almost

three billion people in the world.

If you have food in your refrigerator,

clothes on your back, a roof over

your head and a place to sleep,

you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank,

in your wallet, and spare change

in a dish someplace, you are among

the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

If your parents are still married and alive,

you are very rare,

especially in today’s world.

If you hold up your head with a smile

on your face and are truly thankful,

you are blessed because the majority can,

but most do not.

If you can hold someone’s hand, hug them

or even touch them on the shoulder,

you are blessed because you can

offer God’s healing touch.

If you can read this message,

you are more blessed than over

two billion people in the world

that cannot read anything at all.

You are so blessed in ways

you may never even know.

Most of us, think that to communicate with another person, we should have something to show off – like a handsome or beautiful face, some brain, talent, intelligence, whatever – But most of the time what is actually needed is just a little love and a little will to take that extra step towards humanity. Sri Jaggi Vasudev, the mystic who lives near Coimbatore, commenting on the Tsunami a few years back, that more than the natural disaster, the real disaster is when man does not reach out to suffering humanity.

I would like to share a beautiful poem that I read recently on the net :

As I was walking down life’s highway many years ago

I came upon a sign that read “Heaven’s Grocery Store.”

When I got a little closer the doors swung open wide

And when I came to myself I was standing inside.

I saw a host of angels. They were standing everywhere.

One handed me a basket and said “My child, shop with care.”

Everything a human needed was in that grocery store,

And what you could not carry you could come back for more.

First I got some Patience. Love was in that same row.

Further down was Understanding, you need that everywhere you go.

I got a box or two of Wisdom and Faith a bag or two.

And Charity of course I would need some of that too.

And then some Strength and Courage to help me run this race.

My basket was getting full but I remembered I needed Grace,

And then I chose Salvation, for Salvation was for free

I tried to get enough of that too for you and me.

Then I started to the counter to pay my grocery bill,

For I thought I had everything to do the Masters will.

As I went up the aisle I saw Prayer and put that in,

For I knew when I stepped outside I would run into sin.

Peace and Joy were plentiful, the last things on the shelf.

Song and Praise were hanging near so I just helped myself.

Then I said to the angel “Now how much do I owe?”

He smiled and said “Just take them everywhere you go.”

Again I asked “Really now, How much do I owe?”

“My child” he said, “God paid your bill a long long time ago.”

Marshal Mcluhan said long back that the medium is the message – This has become true today. Today, the tools of communication have become more important than the basic communication itself, and more often than not, the message gets confused with the medium – what a person is trying to convey – has become less important than the tools of communication that he uses to convey his message. Which brings us to the basic issue of this article – The problems of interpersonal communication is today’s modern world – Today, we really need to “un-clutter” our lives from the communication mess that we have created out of technology – Hi fi gadgets are fine, but the gadgets should be confined to the realm of technology alone and should not spill over to the communication part where it is purely our heart that should do the communicating.

As long as we communicate from our hearts, we will know that we are actually reaching the other person – The minute we start communicating from the mind, then, intellect takes over and we become slaves of IQ driven communication – between peer levels – so to say.

Let me end with a story that illustrates the quality of life vis-à-vis the tools to get the quality of life, just as the basic communication and the tools of communication that we were talking about :

A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university lecturer. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life. Offering his guests coffee, the lecturer went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups: porcelain, plastic,glass, some plain-looking and some expensive and exquisite, telling them to help themselves to hot coffee. When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the lecturer said: “If you noticed, all the nice-looking, expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is but normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the better cups and are eyeing each other’s cups.”

“Now, if Life is coffee, then the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, but the quality of Life doesn’t change.” “Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee in it.”

So please, don’t let the cups drive you…enjoy the coffee instead.

(Contentment is the key, and Perspective, the key tool…)

Moving Literatures…..

These days, less and less people are interested in books and literature due to the boom in internet, email and technology. And the quality of literature too, has come down from what it was years back. The imagery that poems, songs and other literature conveyed, like the song, “My favourite things” in the movie, ‘sound of music’ – “ Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings” are simply incomparable. Today we have mediocre poetry, prose and literature that gets rave reviews because of the person who wrote it, or because of the meaning behind the writing – the writing itself, is not very powerful. Consider this : “Nature has many tricks wherewith she convinces man of his finity, — the ceaseless flow of the tides, the fury of the storm, the shock of the earthquake, the long roll of heaven’s artillery, — but the most tremendous, the most stupefying of all, is the passive phase of the White Silence. All movement ceases, the sky clears, the heavens are as brass; the slightest whisper seems sacrilege, and man becomes timid, affrighted at the sound of his own voice. Sole speck of life journeying across the ghostly wastes of a dead world, he trembles at his audacity, realizes that his is a maggot’s life, nothing more. Strange thoughts arise unsummoned, and the mystery of all things strives for utterance. And the fear of death, of God, of the universe, comes over him, — the hope of the Resurrection and the Life, the yearning for immortality, the vain striving of the imprisoned essence, — it is then, if ever, man walks alone with God.” – Jack London in “White Silence”. ( He wrote this when he traveled ALONE across Alaska in the late 1800s – just a few years before his death)

Jack London had neither a computer nor a dictaphone – all he had was a simple pen and some papers – it is said that he used to hang up the papers after he had written on them, like clothes in the clothesline, using clips – so that the ink would dry fast, and not smudge. Because he was really traveled, he could write.

But with today’s generation, that is not the case. We see whatever country we want in our living room, using the computer. Today, Televisions, Computers, Laptops and more importantly, the ubiquitous CELLPHONES  have changed the way people live. Today, most of us live continuously envying the Jones next door, rarely bothered about self actualization or anything. This fast paced modern life has little or no place for literature, poetry, and quality prose. Slowly, people will forget what is literature – Computer web pages and blogs with inane writings will become classic literature. There will be no classic writers. No Shakespears, No Hemingways, No Mark Twain, No Emily Dickinsons, No Tagores, No Vikram Seths, No Arundati Roys. Only technical writers of prosaic emotions.

Today, technology is setting the agenda for language development. Any language that is more suited to the needs and requirements of technology, becomes more popular. And some languages, because of their rigid rules of formatting, may lose out on adaptability. One of the most compelling reasons for the adapatability of a language that I have seen is written in a blog by Mr.S.Gopalakrishnan, in his blog But whether technology can and will enrich language at the same time retaining all the present features and characteristics, remains to be seen.

But most of the time, technology seems to be cutting down on the finer use of nuances and feelings, sacrificing syntax for symbols, for wider use. The following humour story, taken from the Net during the formation of the European Union some years back, illustrates the point well:

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the EU rather than German which was the other possibility.

As part of the negotiations, it was accepted that English spelling had some room for improvement and a programme drawn in a five year phase-in plan that would be known as “Euro-English”

In the first year, “s” will replace the soft “c”.

Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy.

The hard “c” will be dropped in favour of the “k”. This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan have 1 less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the second year, when the troublesome “ph” will be replaced with “f”. This will make words like “fotograf” 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be ekspekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible.

Goverments will enkorage the removal of double letter, which have always ben a deteremt to akurate speling.Also, al wil agre that the horrible mes of the silent “e”s in the langage is disgraceful, and they should go away.

By the forth year, people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing “th” with “z” and “w” with “v”.

During ze fifz year, ze unesesary “o” kan be dropd from vords containing “ou” and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.

After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi to understand ech ozer. Ze drem vil finali kum tru!

When technology replaces culture, when gadgets and gismos replace emotions, we can be sure that language, literature, and culture could indeed become extinct… With technology producing Couch potatoes out of our next generation, we can only hope that sometime in the distant future, some technical writer somewhere along the line, will break the rules and go back to the basics of beautiful writing – simple prose