The Art of Inner Voice

The folks from WordPress encourage their blogging disciples to use different “categories” for our posts, so I have reverted to incorporating “The Art Of…” as one of these.

I would, however, caveat that I am not proffering any form of artistic advice or guidance in the words to follow, themselves arguably a bi-product of my own ‘Inner Voice’ and stream of consciousness. In fact, it was Florence, our 3 year old, who first put the idea in my head to write about this subject, earlier today, whilst playing in her bedroom.

Not for the first time in recent months I found myself propped up on Flo’s beanbag at 6.30am this morning, clutching the day’s first cup of tea, and attempting to follow the non-stop chatter she was managing to keep up for a good twenty minutes, breathlessly switching topics, from barbie dolls to doctors and nurses, to renaming her plastic farm animals to listing out options of what her best friend, Velvet, would be wearing later when she comes over for dinner.

There used to be times when Flo required some sort of feedback from me, but now, with her ever growing vocabulary and focused concern about never actually allowing her sentences to find a logical ending, my role these days tends to be that of sleepy by-stander, at best nodding knowingly when she looks up to check I’m still conscious.

If Flo were to join the Just a Minute panel on Radio 4, I am convinced she’d hold her own – although would let herself down on the repetition rule, as a combination of the words “fairies”, “princess”, “dollies”, “giraffe” and an assortment of others, tend to feature in much of her monologues.

Of course we all have an inner voice.  You are likely to be reading these words whilst simultaneously keeping one or two internalised debates, thoughts, or musings, on the boil, perhaps momentarily putting them on pause, to return to at a later date.

No matter how we appear on the outside, we are each our own refined and unique critics, casters of doubt, offerers of hope.  More than daydreaming, our inner voices are on a permanent setting: “ON”.

Most of the time, we have learnt how to keep our inner voices at bay, contained, smothered. That said, we’ve all caught ourselves walking down the street, or sat at the bus stop, in moments of lapse, allowing the inner voice out and mumbling away to ourselves about lord only knows what, before catching the eyes of a passer by and stopping mid-flow, caught in the act and smiling awkwardly as if to quash any notion that we are being ‘odd’.  Or, maybe that’s just me.

For a 3 year old, there are no social graces or practised mechanisms for keeping the inner voice contained.  It runs free, like water from a tap.  In Flo’s case, a hose-pipe on full burst. How lucky to be a 3 year old, with such freedom of speech!

Naturally, even the most careful of adults can find themselves allowing the inner voice at times to seep out.  For some, and I am not excluded from this list, it can be more regular than not that words just seem to slip out – a borderline joke, a nervous breaking of the silence, a chivvying along of a conversation which appears somewhat staccato.  Often, it just can’t be helped.

Over in Saigon, we experienced from day 1 the cultural differences, including inner voice management, between the British and the Vietnamese.

You are much more likely to offend someone here by making the wrong comment about the food they have just served you, than if you ask any of the following questions (all of which have been put to us): “how much do you earn?” “how much do you pay for your apartment?” “your daughter is very chubby,” (to one of Lou’s fellow ex-pat Mums) “you need to dye the grey bits in your hair,” (to me, after Martha was born) “Mr Tim, you are looking older and fatter”.

It would appear that speaking your mind about subjects wholly taboo back in the UK is very much the basis of everyday exchanges here.

My favourite anecdote was from a fellow NGO manager, Van, an American-Vietnamese, who had recently hired a young woman as her PR Officer.  On Day 3 of her starting, Van was regaling about her efforts to get back into the gym and “lose some of my tummy”, to which the new recruit, in front of the rest of the team, innocently bounded back with “then why are you wearing that outfit today which completely accentuates your flabby waist?”

Having been brought up in California, Van had to suppress the urge the instantly fire the girl, and instead was made to slowly nod back in agreement, before taking her to one side later in the day and beginning on the long road of trying to finesse this girl’s small talk.

For anyone familiar with NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) you will appreciate some of the techniques that can be practised for “reading” people’s thoughts and inclinations.

NLP preaches that our inner voice, and the behaviour it prompts, can be interpreted. In an extreme example, next time you spot a colleague sat in meeting, with their hands clasped over, or in the vicinity of, their mouth, you must know that this is because they want to talk, and are being forced instead to listen to someone else speak.  Nine times out of ten, they also vehemently disagree with what that someone is saying.

A similar thing can happen – again typically in a work context – when someone puts their hands over both their eyes before responding to a question or a situation.  As the NLP instructor, who I remember so well from moons ago, used to say, “this, class, reflects the person’s wish that they do not want to answer the question, and further are wishing that you would disappear before their very eyes when they remove their hands from them”.

There are times when we can be too busy to notice our inner voice, and then there are occasions when it can be all that we do notice. Either way, childhood or adulthood, Vietnamese, or from other stock, our inner voice ticks on 24/7.

We can’t fight it – and thank goodness for that.

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