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When broaching cultural issues, we can see that East and West often share similarities as well as differences. However, if we take a close look at “talking”, the activity of opening one’s mouth to utter sounds, – which has now become spoken languages – it seems that East and West share nothing but similarities. While enjoying the leisurely days of summer, let’s “talk” about “talking” to see whether the above-mentioned opinion holds water.

Talking, A Gift Or A Punishment?

I feel like jumping right to the conclusion: the “talking” activity per se (not “spoken words”) can be considered as a dangerous weapon.

Exhibit number 1: Yosarian and Dunbar, two protagonists in the famous novel Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, convalesced in the military hospital on an Italian island during World War II, in the same room with an injured soldier from Texas. Lying right beside the Texan was a soldier who was completely bandaged from head to toe. The Texan had the habit of talking too much, 24/7. When they discovered the bandaged soldier was dead, Dunbar and Yosarian concluded firmly that it was the Texan who killed him. When asked why, Yosarian replied curtly, “I heard you killed him.” Yosarian meant to say “You talked him to death.”

“Talk” here is similar to “abuse”, “bully”, “oppress”, “torture”. The bandaged soldier lay like a log on his bed, and was forced to hear his neighbor talk incessantly. He might die of other serious injuries, but he could also die from being tortured by his neighbor’s garrulousness.

“Talking” per se obviously is a dangerous activity. Let alone the contents of what is being spoken.

The “How” and “What” of Talking Are Something Else

So far, we’ve just had a brief look at the “talking” action. The way we talk is also important. Barking, sneering, hinting… to name a few. Words can either extinguish or start a conflagration. Vietnamese proverbs remind us that: Speak if you know; be quiet and listen if you don’t. Words cost nothing, so choose the proper ones to please others. Even in the Disney animation: Bambi, the mother of the talkative Thumper reminded her son: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

 Issues related to “talking” are boundless, we should return to them on a later occasion. For the time being, let me come back to the main topic, in order not to be labeled as someone who is talking too much, talking too long, and talking nonsense.

The Anatomy of Talking

Talking is a human necessity, no wonder why the Chinese (and Vietnamese also) used to put the yoke of the four virtues with “home-making skills, appearance, speech and behavior” around the necks of women. While speech is comprised of everything related to talking, though – I believe – that a yoke should be required for everybody, not just women. If you ask a singer, as a performing artist, what he or she thinks is the most precious possession he or she has, the majority of them will answer that it is their voice, their figure, or their way of “depicting” the song. However, I believe the most important thing in expressing themselves – not just for singers but everybody – is the vocal cords, a very special structure in our throat. The action of the vocal cords being blown apart and then “sucked” back together, is repeated hundreds or even thousands of times per second to  produce sound, which is then shaped by muscular changes in the pharynx (throat) and oral cavity (including the lips, tongue, palate, and jaw) to create speech. A process which seems simple, but is in fact very complicated.

That is the sheer anatomic aspect of “talking”, however if we only harness our lips, tongue, vocal cords, pharynx and both lungs to talk, then we miss something important. The talking process needs the brain. If there is no processing through the brain, “talking” will engender disasters.

And this is the cause of an epidemic that only happens among human species: talking too much, talking too long, and talking nonsense.

Complications Of Garrulousness

To draw attention of others, many people act up or overdo by clearing their throat, gesticulating and clapping their hands… before talking, which often turn them into clowns.

Slip of the tongue happens more often in talkative people. Their love of talking acts like the stimulant that triggers their urge to open their mouth.

Being talkative when under the police’s radar is not beneficial at all. In Canada, and in many democratic countries, suspects are always reminded that they have “the right to remain silent…”

In court, when calling his or her client to the stand, the lawyer is often worried that he or she might utter something inappropriate and become the easy target for the prosecutor’s attack.

Garrulous people often have problems with their memory. They utter something in the spur of the moment, and later deny what has been said. Those people have short memory.

When we talk, the thinking process in our brain is slowing down, and not everybody is good at multi-tasking.

People often interrupt others because they are afraid of losing the chance to talk. These occasions happen more often when people become too close to each other, after crossing the boundary of being an acquaintance. In a family setting, there is always a talker and a listener. The talker becomes a talker not because his (or mainly her) spouse is a good listener, but because she (or mainly he) has been tamed after years of being bullied into a listener.

Personal Notes

Talking too much is a way of bullying others. In a meeting, there are usually some characters who talk too much, to the point of controlling the meeting and manipulating other people. Not long ago, during meetings of the agency that I worked with, I was often tortured by the frivolity of a young woman who interrupted other people all the time, and when she got the crowd’s attention, she hesitated a while then waved her hand and concluded: never mind! While trying to analyze the facts, her brain could not cope with the over-activity of her mouth. She did not let the skin of her mouth regenerate, to quote a Vietnamese saying.

Years ago, during a book signing event for some Vietnamese authors in the City of Mississauga, I was interviewed by a popular TV station together with (what luck!) a female writer. The time allotted to both authors lasted from 5 to 10 minutes. As a habit, I let the lady go first and (My God!) she narrated the whole story of her life and her career, from the incipient moment to that day; she talked about her inspiration, the reasons she chose her pen name, the circumstances she wrote this short story and this and that… When she was done, the time allotted had already expired, I only had enough time to show the cover of my book to the lens of the camera and uttered a brief phrase, “Thank you very much!” in hopes that the viewers would remember the name of my bullied book. This incident really did happen, so to redress that awkward and unfair situation, please allow me to PR that bullied book one more time, as a way of self-healing: “An Excerpt from the Bible” (Một Đoạn Trong Thánh Kinh).

 Antidote: No More Talking!

Have you been within the vicinity of a group of teenagers while they commingle and talk? They interrupt each other. They talk like there is no tomorrow. In addition, most of the time, the things that they talk about are just nonsense. Yet they burst out laughing intermittently.

 I am sure you have, more than once, wished that you had a special remote control, to press the mute button on the woman who has been talking incessantly and loudly in the table next to yours in a restaurant. That’s why I admire Zen masters who reach enlightenment and become silent. The world will be a better place if we have such a remote control.

 In Conclusion

There are garrulous, talkative, verbose people everywhere, no matter East or West; hence “talking” and its consequences are almost the same across all continents.

This “brief” article may not be persuasive enough, however I believe there are times in your life when you sit beside somebody, pretending to listen attentively, but in reality you have been zoning out.

It sounds ludicrous, but when creating the human species, our Creator should have set a precise talking quota for each person. A certain number of sentences to be spoken per day. By doing so, people would not squander words and language, and would pay close attention to what they utter, the spoken words would be more valuable and peace would be with us more frequently.

Talking, no matter what it is about, is lame if it is lengthy.

Well, I believe I have reached (or exceeded?) my quota today. My apology if my “talking” has tormented you. Thank you so much for spending your time with me. Wish you all the best this summer, and avoid being intoxicated by people’s garrulousness.

We’ll “talk” again in the next issue.