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The hurry to intimacy

I am turning my attention to silence, especially its vital role in conversations that are fulfilling and connecting. My academic friends, Creighton Professors Samantha Senda-Cook and Jay Leighter, helpfully directed me to various initial resources, including Keith Basso’s 1970 essay, “To Give up on Words”: Silence in Western Apache Culture.

While the scenarios for silence and the common attributes being identified within them in that study are intriguing, I was amused, especially, in recognizing in these experiences from four decades ago the overly hasty side of Anglo culture towards intimacy. As Keith Basso observed:

“If the stranger is an Anglo, it is usually assumed that he “wants to teach us something”…  or that he “wants to make friends in a hurry”… The Western Apache verbal reticence with strangers is directly related to the conviction that the establishment of social relationships is a serious matter that calls for caution, careful judgment, and plenty of time.”

"The name is Bond; James Bond"

“The name is Bond; James Bond”

In contemporary culture, it is the immediate use of first name terms that irritates me. When I started my career in the late 1980s, all communications (verbal and written) were between “Mr. Chittenden” and “Mr./Mrs. X.” When we reached that invisible tipping point to first names, we had covered a lot of professional ground together, often as adversaries. I am slightly troubled, now, at the use of first names, as it leaves no further journeying space towards the intimacy of friendship. It is as if we all must be friends from the start.

This inauthentic treatment of our developing relationships is technologically amplified by the edifices of deceit evinced by Facebook and other social platforms. If we are unwilling to navigate our way towards knowing another person, with the inherent challenges of that mutual exploration, we diminish our ability to enjoy silence and to realize its rewards.

4 Comments

  1. You explain that once you’d made it over the threshold to use first names that it came from time “often as adversaries.” Surely it came from time spent with those persons non-adversarially too? A bit of what you’re saying is also a business formality that is now lost in our culture. It seems that formality in most things is viewed skeptically or, at least, as non-progressive. I appreciate now knowing this Native American view on establishing social relationships as a “serious matter.” Too often our desire to like and to be liked wins out over consideration, thoughtfulness, and intuition.

    • Absolutely true that the transition in intimacy from use of last names to use of first was non-adversarial. The context for those conversations, though, was as one lawyer engaged with another lawyer on the other side of the fence. In that scenario there was an adversarial structure, albeit that you are right that it was not antagonistic. You are also astute in observing that social pressure and our innate desires to fit in and be accepted often overwhelms other, more beneficial attitudes towards conversation. Thanks for your comment.

  2. I find it interesting that you see going to first names immediately as a kind of falseness, since people haven’t taken the time to develop intimacy. I think the reason I enjoy leaving more formal titles behind is that it feels more false to me, like I’m not really getting to know you through the armor of your formal mask. I think maybe being more formal could be nice for more formal relationships where we don’t expect to really get to know one another in more holistic intimacy or maybe where a relationship needs to maintain distance, like student/teacher or patient/doctor.

    • Thanks for your observation, Dedrick. I appreciate the perspective you bring, especially noting how titles and other structures of formality inhibit connection by setting up barriers to our getting to know one another. Although you are not going this far with your comment, building out of your perspective, my concern is perhaps that the absence of formality is not necessarily the same as intimacy. Being “nice” and using first names, for example, does not mean the relationship is any deeper. However, there is a balance to be achieved between formality that diminishes the power to form relationships and informality that offers the pretense of connection. Thanks again, Dedrick, for your reflection.

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