Are Words Overrated?

Cavemen, before language was developed, used gestures and body positioning to convey feelings, ideas and plans. Mannerisms and gestures were powerful, unquestioned and accepted. There was little to doubt unless they were facing an enemy. Then, all the rules were off the table and they used decoys, called one another’s bluffs and misled their foes in order to achieve victory and dominance.

In the game of matchmaking and sexual conquest, it goes without saying that strategies were also employed to secure a partner for twenty minutes or twenty years. Who are we to judge then, when foes and friends, family and co-workers offend or injure us without a verbal apology?

Pride, I suppose, leads us to resent others and hold our position of self-righteous indignation. So we wait until a verbal apology is forth-coming. Hours or days pass, sometimes years, and still we wait.

But what if we were less resentful and more open to forgiveness? What if we paid attention to more than verbal cues?  Body language will forever remain our primal, and primary, language because none of us are able to speak for the first year or two of our lives. We communicated with smiles, grimaces, giggles, crying, silence, arms flailing or blocking, legs kicking or curled, and I’m certain, with a plethora of meta-communication techniques that actual parents can describe from personal experience.

Instead of waiting for an “I’m sorry”, perhaps we should watch for an offering, a thoughtful gesture, an accommodation, a space saved or given, a predicted anticipation. Can you visualize what these actions look like? And speaking of actions, if they do indeed speak louder than words, why are we waiting for platitudinous apologies instead of visual cues that are worth a thousand words?

I had an ex who rarely apologized with words. I should add that perhaps men and women differ in the methods and modes we employ to rend an apology. After many a verbal battle, followed by retreat and silence for a day or two, the sun would peak over the horizon, a pale yellow-pink; we both knew it was time to bury the axe.

Neither of us wanted to acknowledge verbally that the argument was silly and hurtful, that we held onto our positions far too radically, that we were more wrong than the other, or that our silence caused two days’ loss of affection, sex, fun, reading together, enjoying a movie, eating at the same table and … conversation.

Apology rarely came in sound waves. They seldom required our ears. One of us would offer the first act of contrition. A meal prepared with two plates instead of one. The softening of the eyes when a glance is exchanged. The bed made and pillows fluffed when it’s not ordinarily done. Chuckling affectionately when the other is caught in a clumsy act. Two coffee mugs out instead of one. These gestures are the equivalent of ice melting on a glacier. Your foe’s heart has warmed and is ready to make peace.

How to accept the gestured offering? With patience, understanding and forgiveness. Not easily practiced if disrespect was included in the argument. But where two healthy adults think long and hard before each uttered sentence – and speak slowly and deliberately when emotions flare – they can prevent 99% of degraded arguments that include accusations, interrogations, baggage-mining, button-pushing and superlatives. When it’s understood between two people that respect far outweighs being right or wrong, then we naturally invite peaceful reconciliation without words.


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