“Talking To” vs. “Talking With”

We spend too much time talking to one another—I think it is about time we start talking with one another.

Unknown.jpegWe might add to this talking about another, by which we mean talk that focuses on another person, often in a derogatory way. In the case of the latter, we refer to gossip, which is malicious, narrow, and crude. Unfortunately, it occupies speech most. Over half of conversations, I would argue, concern others at one point or another, in which they are discussed behind their backs, without knowledge, the unwitting victim of vitriolic verbal venom. Psychologists say this arises from two motives: First, gossip is engaged in order to learn about threats, about who is dominant, as this was important in Neolithic times; second, to compensate for one’s own self-esteem, or lack thereof. Picture nothing worse than two people scheming together in private, and you are the subject of their ridicule and criticism, and you have no knowledge of it as they attack and slander your name and reputation, so that it spreads into rumors, which are accepted prima facie, then used against you—infectious, like a virus, a deadly one.

When we talk about the former, we mean it in a sense with which we are more comfortable; in fact, it is used colloquially by almost everyone: “I was talking to my boss the other day,””My friends and I talked to each other on the phone,” or ”I love talking to people.” The word “to” is a preposition, so used transitively, it takes a verb and is directed toward an object. Already, we see a twofold implication. Plainly, the word Unknown.png“toward” when used in the context of persons is alarming and carries with it negative connotations. While we can be gracious toward another person, it is rare; we usually hear angry, hateful, prejudiced, etc. toward another person. In other words, the word “toward” means to direct something at someone, like a projectile—which words are. Therefore, we hurl words toward another, which is precisely what “talking to” means. This in-itself implies one-way communication. To better illustrate what I am describing, replace to with at. “I was talking at my boss the other day.” While they are different words, the meaning is not changed; rather, the word “to,” seemingly less aggressive and affrontive, is accepted as more acceptable and respectful, despite masking a darker message. Similarly we say we “give things to people,” as though they are the recipient. Taken this way, “talking to” means delivering words to people. But a gift given is not reciprocated. A delivery is sent to one destination to be received, meaning the interlocutor is the receptacle for the speaker’s words—they are reduced to something which receives, as though it is lifeless. Just as a mailbox is designated for receiving mail, so the person whom is being talked to is designated as “something” to receive their words. This leads to the second implication of the preposition “to.” Because “to” receives an object, it means the other person is become an object—that is, they are objectified, made into an object. The person becomes a mailbox, a mere thing, an object whose only reason for existence is to house mail, to be that which receives words; the person is something into which words are deposited and then left. When we endure something, we “take” it. We take the abusetake the lecturetake the pain; when we talk to people, we expect them to take our words.

Thus, when we talk to one another, we are not having a conversation. A conversation requires that two people be involved. It involves an exchange of words—not a depositing of them, nor a receiving of them. When we reduce each other to receptacles, things to store our baggage, we leave no room for exchange. Nobody puts mail into a mailbox and expects it to come back to them; so when you talk to someone, you hurl words toward them and expect them to receive it, but not return it. Talking to is hurling-toward-to-1.jpgdeposit. Everyone knows, however, that if you want a response, you do not just throw it and expect it to stay there. Accordingly, we must learn to talk with one another, rather than to one another. To talk with is to engage in conversation, in two-sided talk, in which words are passed from one to another. Not hurled or thrown but passed, granted, welcomed, exchanged. Whereas one deposits money into the bank to keep it there, one exchanges money into the bank to get its equal value. Who exchanges a 10-dollar bill for 10 one-dollar bills gets the same value back from what they gave. Conversation is an exchange. We converse with. From this we conclude that talking with is exchanging-for-equal-value, by which we mean that: What we put in, we get back. This is conversation. This is discussion. This is healthy communication, where both parties are heard, none prioritized ahead of the other, and where neither is objectivized, reduced to an object, but heard out. Everyone’s opinion is heard in talking with, whereas only one is in talking to. I think it is about time we stop talking to one another and start talking with one another.

Such will be a good start to creating a better future.



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