Sunday evening and I settled down with my daughters to watch a film on Netflix. Tucked up under rugs, the dog stretched out between us, cat curled up, homemade pizza (I’m getting good), a glass of wine ... Honestly – I cannot remember the last time we did this – all of us together, in the same room, at the same time, watching the same film. Usually this would take a feat of military planning to achieve – and even then, a last minute dispute about what to watch. Before confinement, when even my youngest led a ridiculously hectic social life, it was a rare occurrence if we were ever all together in the house at any one time, let alone the same room. But on Sunday we were. Just us. And I loved it. I found my attention torn between the film (quite emotional and, yes, I cried) and intermittently marvelling at just how calming and comfortable it all felt.
What has become really apparent to me in all of this is that I don’t think I have ever been more aware of communication – the different ways we choose to communicate with each other and just how much of what’s being said around us goes undetected or taken for granted. According to research, about 85% of what we communicate is unspoken – which does seem a surprisingly high statistic until you really think about the eye contact we make, the way we stand, our movements and our expressions. It seems we say a huge amount without actually saying anything at all. Before this pandemic saw us all cooped up in our homes with the people we’ve chosen to be with, how many of us really noticed what was being said without words?
Of course, for so many of us it comes down to a lack of time. There seems to be a universal need to fill our lives to a point where so much is crammed into our days, what we say becomes snatched and what we hear is mostly only half listened to. The number of times I’m literally racing out of the door and my daughters choose this moment to impart something of great importance! Then it’s forgotten, the day goes on and right there I’ve inadvertently set in motion a lack of communication. If any good can be taken from this unwanted turn of events it’s that we have time now to talk and to listen and feel more connected to the people we are finally really talking to.
Being unable to physically see each other now has also brought out an unexpected burst of social madness across the country, and we’re discovering just how easy it all is when we actually make the effort. People we haven’t seen in years are suddenly Zooming into our homes, suggesting virtual cocktail parties, or in a complete frenzy compiling lengthy quizzes that – let’s be frank – are so hard that after a couple of glasses few of us get any answers anyway – but who cares?! If it all comes down to just staying in touch – it’s easy. Why didn’t we do this before with the friends and family we rarely see?
And who knew it could be so easy to work from home? Today’s advanced technology is literally shining in glory here. Although – that said – I still think I’ll always prefer the noisy interaction of actually being in the office … But imagine if this pandemic had happened 30 years ago when ten pence bought you a short call in the local phone box, faxing was considered state of the art for overseas correspondence and we all still wrote letters? Of course we would have carried on in the way we are doing now – finding different ways to communicate – but you still have to marvel at how inventive we have become, and how communication has taken on different meanings that we hadn’t even considered before.
I hope that when some semblance of normality is restored and we’re back out there again, we won’t forget any of this. I hope we keep talking more and listening more. Mostly, I hope we keep setting aside time to appreciate others, because this is teaching us that it’s the people around us who matter, not all of the other things that seemed so very important before any of this began.