Where does your brain go when someone asks you how you are? For most people, there is a second or two where you contemplate what to respond. It’s not that you don’t know how you are doing but rather that you are aware of the dynamics of the power of conversation. The type of relationship and level of trust determines how you are to the person you are talking to.
In most cases, you will end up saying you are okay because it is easier to avoid the judgment, or pity, or feigned concern that comes with an admission that you are struggling. Most people pride themselves on the fact that they don’t look like what they are going through. The problem is, while it’s nice to know that although your world feels like it’s falling apart, no one from the outside can tell that something is wrong, this creates a culture of silence.
People can’t name what they can’t see. So, unless you tap into the power of conversation, you end up fighting so many things alone, with a forced smile on your face.
Kenya’s first national language is silence; that is why there is laughter in a room full of ‘educated’ ‘leaders’ when a grieving mother jokes about the silence of a woman experiencing domestic violence.
Silence is expected from every oppressed individual, and it is presented as a way, as the only way to maintain respectability. Since we exist in a culture that values respectability, or rather a misconstrued idea of respectability, more than anything else, it is easy to get lost in the silence.
So, when someone asks you how you are, you think about respectability, even for a few seconds. Your mind wanders to a world where everyone knows what you are going through, a world where every stare you get is based on your struggle rather than your fight. According to you, your pain is displayed for everyone to see and you lose your respectability in this world.
You wonder what others will say if they knew how damaged you were, how broken you have been, and how much of a struggle it is to make it through the day. Every day, in each moment, when someone asks you how you are, you imagine that the power of conversation is negative, and you end up lying.
“I am fine.”
Time and time again, with every person that asks, you reiterate it, you are fine. Perhaps, if you said it enough times, you might start believing it. You keep saying it so much that the few seconds of hesitation disappear; there is no need to think, you are fine.
Have you ever heard of the phrase “a problem shared is a problem half solved’? The thing is, the power of conversation is more than you know, more than you would care to imagine. The minute you decide to go against the culture of silence, you open yourself up to healing.
I recently came across the work done by Usikimye, an organization that rescues Gender and Domestic Violence survivors and works to restore their lives in any possible way. This group and all the work it does is based on the acknowledgment of the power of conversation. In their name, in their work, they push individuals not to be quiet.
People can’t name what they can’t see, that which you keep hidden. The minute you speak up and ask for help, the wheels start spinning. This is how you get the help you need.
Kenya’s language of silence is passed on from one generation to the next, and it is adopted in various systems. It is a family protecting rapists to protect their respectability; it is a principal asking students to be quiet about sexual harassment because men shouldn’t talk about these things. This silence is people masquerading as leaders asking people to comply with whatever nonsense presented to them because no one wants any more political bloodshed.
Perks of the Power of Conversation
Whatever your silence is, it might feel like a way to maintain respectability in whichever area of life, but in essence, it is designed to uphold oppressive and abuse structures. Finding your voice allows you to break the culture of silence. In this, you get to let the world know that although you don’t look like your struggle, you do have battles you are fighting.
This level of vulnerability, when someone asks how you are, could help you;
Get a better understanding of what you are going through
Sometimes, the mind plays tricks on you. It can either make things more significant than they are or assume the seriousness of a situation. Talking about what you are going through helps you get a clearer picture. Other than it is a chance to look at things from a different perspective, voicing your concerns, worries, and fears allows you to familiarize yourself with your reaction to those things.
From your words, you can determine whether you see things as they are or as influenced by your past or uncertainty for the future.
Access necessary information to get out of a bad situation
“You can only dream as far as you can see, and you have everything you need to expand your horizon.” Wahu Kariuki (Limitless Existence).
If you have never seen a cow, it is impossible to describe what it looks like. But if you live close to a farm and are curious about describing a cow, you will need first to find a way to visit the farm. Similarly, the only way to experience the benefits that come with the power of conversation is to start with what is at hand.
First, you need to find someone trustworthy and then work towards being as honest as possible, especially when you need help. Ultimately, this gives you access to all the information this individual has on what you are going through.
Find community in people fighting the same things you are
For everything you are going through, other people are walking the same journey. There is no uniqueness in struggle; the world keeps shuffling burdens and dealing them out like life is a card game.
There is power in finding community in your struggle; every oppressor knows this. That is why governments are proposing to limit the power of conversation through social media bills. They know that the minute people start speaking comes rebellion against these harmful systems. They know that when oppression becomes a point of conversation, it is impossible to manipulate people.
This is evidenced in the shamelessness of the Nigerian Government trying to overlook the #LekkiMassacre. When you speak, when you stand by your truth, when you refuse to comply with the idea of saving face, when you overlook the concept of not airing dirty laundry in public, you find community. You find people who amplify your struggle and help you fight to get out of bad places.
Create awareness on the issue
It has been said, time and again, that the issue of sexual harassment and assault is a modern-day thing. According to people on the interwebs who won’t take a minute to read up on history, the only reason there is an increase in such cases is exposure to the internet, poor dressing, and a morally corrupt society.
In essence, these people forget that while all these factors have contributed to increased sexual harassment and assault cases, more people are talking about it. Thanks to the power of conversation and the digital space’s interconnectivity, we know about Chilean women protesting rape through art. Conversation creates awareness, sometimes on a global scale, about the heart-wrecking number of femicides in the world.
Help others find the confidence to talk about it
Standing alone in places of fear and worry is scary and difficult. The idea of respectability that promotes silence counts on this fear. It depends on the knowledge that many would rather stay in pain than be seen as the face of a particular struggle.
The power of conversation helps ensure that whoever decides to speak loudly about their journeys and the battles they are trying to win doesn’t stand alone. Through the work done by the #MeToo movement, it is evident that voicing struggle inspires others to do the same.
The next time someone you trust genuinely asks how you are, in those moments that you spend weighing the consequences of whatever answer you should give, remember that the power of conversation is key to healing. You might struggle to find the words after being silent for so long, but it is better to take your time than speaking feigned wellness in your life.