As children, we’re often told that we can be anything we want to be. We just have to put our minds to it and be willing to work hard. Most of us often believe this. It isn’t until much later, either as teenagers, or young adults, that we begin to realize that the world isn’t as open to us as we were told. There are certain things that serve as barriers that, at times, are too high to overcome.

Teaching public speaking, I am often reminded that these barriers exist for kids as well. While we may tell them that they can be anything they want to be, these barriers loom over their heads, ready to challenge and deny their dreams. Truthfully, these barriers don’t discriminate based on age – they challenge everyone no matter how young or old.

Growing up, this usually isn’t an issue. The idea that “ignorance is bliss” sits well with most kids. Still, there are a few individuals who have to find out the hard way that these barriers are present. These kids and adults get dealt a tough hand in life and rarely know how to cope or ask for help. These people represent the danger of living in naturally forced silence.

In this article. my goal is to explore the necessity of talk and communication education in the world today. Previously, I have talked about the growing use of technology related to talk – specifically, how social media and mobile technologies are pushing the envelope for communication. In this article, however, my focus is on a problem that technology simply can’t solve.

This is the problem of silence.

The Problem With Silence

While silence is literally the absence of communication, it still conveys a lot of information. In the way we naturally communicate, we use silence as a way of emphasizing things and breaking up our ideas. Usually, there is a comfortable balance that comes with silence. If you have too little silence, people might think you talk too much. If there’s too much silence, people might get the impression that your unintelligent or unconfident.

The truth is we often don’t know how to react to the silent types. In school, these are the kids that go through the day without socializing, without making eye contact, or without making any effort to connect with others. These are the people that sometimes live in the shadows of our everyday social world. These are also the people that might need the most help in their silent suffering.

Many societal issues we deal with can often be connected to silence. For example consider the following statistics on teenage and young adult suicide:

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among individuals age 10-24.
  • 4,600 individuals in this range die from suicide each year.
  • 157,000 young individuals receive medical treatment for attempted suicide each year.

The staggering number of suicides and attempted suicide among young people are a result of many complex social factors. One common, and preventable, issue is the lack of communication. People in trouble often struggle to express their internal turmoil. Those around the individual often don’t know what to ask or what to say to help the individual.

The issue of suicide isn’t the only issue where silence plays a major role. Consider these statistics on domestic abuse:

  • 1 in 4 women are likely to experience domestic abuse.
  • Women experience up to 4 million assaults and rapes, men experience up to 3 million assaults.
  • A large majority of domestic assaults go unreported.

The lack of communication can also be seen as a driving factor in issues of domestic abuse. Those that suffer rarely know how or don’t feel safe in asking for help, confronting the abuser, or generally communicating their issues to the outside world.
These two issues represent just a sliver of the growing turmoil that silence has a connection to. This turmoil is the exact reason that talk is still relevant and important in our society.

Major issues like these typically prompt us to look for an outside solution. With suicide, friends and family members try to recognize certain signs of suicidal thoughts and tendencies. When it comes to domestic abuse, we try to teach skills to loved ones so they recognize physical and emotional signs of abuse. Quite often, the most useful point of help can from the person in trouble. When a victim or a potential victim reaches out through communication, we call this self-advocacy.

Taking The Reigns From Silence

The idea of self-advocacy comes from the literature and ideas of the disabilities movement. When helping individuals with particular mental or physical disabilities, it is often tempting to simply focus on the individuals around the person with the challenge. Self-advocacy, however, attempts to place the control back in the hands of the individual.

The education for this idea focuses on teaching a very important skill: mastering the means of communication that are available to an individual. Since mental and physical disabilities can affect a person’s ability to communicate, alternative mediums are often necessary.

Regardless of what challenges, disabilities, or situations an individual might experience, one thing is almost universally true – it can be extremely difficult to talk about these issues. The challenge of self-advocacy often revolves around communication.
The ability to advocate for yourself starts with your ability to communicate your needs to others. To do this, certain skills must be mastered. An individual has to determine what their specific needs and challenges actually are. Labelling the mental and physical issues that a single person can experience is often quite difficult.

Once these issues, needs, and challenges have been identified, a person has to determine how to communicate these things to the outside world. Doing this requires the ability to get people to listen in the first place.

It is no secret that talking with other people can be an extremely difficult. Communication skills that get the attention of others are extremely important, but can be difficult to develop if you don’t have a natural gift of gab.

Another challenge is negotiating with people. We all know that most people don’t follow the spoken word with complete accuracy and obedience. Self-advocacy is a process of negotiating with other individuals. Since negotiation is a completely separate skill set from communication, this just adds on to the overall educational requirements that self-advocating individuals must tackle. On the bright side, the challenge of tackling these skills can be worthwhile. More than that, they are often empowering.

Taking the time to learn the necessary communication and negotiation skills for self-advocacy is one of the most effective, if not widely available solutions to situations where silence can be dangerous. While it is true that these skills can be difficult to obtain, practice, and especially master, it is also true lacking these skills can be detrimental.

The idea behind self-advocacy is to put control back in the hands of the individual. Self-advocacy equals self empowerment. This self empowerment not only allows people to take control over their own obstacles, but also allows them to succeed in other areas of their life.

Once again, the question remains: does talk still matter in our society today? When we look at the societal issues that necessitate self-advocacy skills, answer is a resounding “yes”.

More than that, the necessity for talk and communication in a more general context is even greater. Whether it’s teaching people to survive in life or to thrive in a specific profession, oracy education could be the difference between success and failure. Given all this, it is easy to see how talk and oral education still matter in today’s world.