Three things happened to me when I was 17 that turned out to have a significant effect on my interest in communications, and specifically non-verbal communications, later in life. First, I read a book about the Dalai Lama, and took him on as one of my heroes immediately and forever. Second, I learned my father was gay. And third, I died.
I talked about seeing the Dalai Lama in person in my first post in this series. His effect on me and on the rest of the audience was so powerful, that it forced me to think about the power of non-verbal communications. How could one person transfix me with a look?
I learned that my father was gay in a nanosecond at Christmas. I’d rushed around attempting to buy him a present with my usual lack of success. He was a hard man to buy presents for – he didn’t have many hobbies and he divided his life rigorously between work and home. When he was at home, he did DIY chores.
But he wasn’t the kind of man you’d buy a hammer for; his real interests were artistic and literary. So I was looking for a book.
I finally found E. M. Forster’s posthumously published novel Maurice. It revealed his homosexuality, and so had been banned for 50 years after his death, and had been published only recently. I chose it, I thought, because of its literary merit, wrapped it up, and put it under the Christmas tree.
On the day, when my Dad got around to opening it, he gave me a very brief, startled look, before regaining his composure, saying thanks, and moving on to the next present.
But in that nanosecond look, I saw suddenly, intuitively, and finally, that he was gay. Nothing was said, and it was 10 more years until my Dad came out to me deliberately, but I knew it in that look.
And I realized the power of non-verbal communications. That a whole secret life could be revealed in one glance was astonishing to me. Humans didn’t need words to tell each other things, and even very important things. Non-verbal communications isn’t just another human conversation; it’s the most important human conversation.
Next time: I die. (Read more »)