Tuesday, March 04, 2008


I found this in my archives. It is the text of a speech I gave for a one-day speech workshop I participated in last year. You may have heard this spiel before (very possibly in person), but I thought I'd post it here. Note: I'm not sure I feel this way, exactly, about love anymore. Or, at least, I'm not sure I'm actively promoting this theory these days. These days I'm trying to keep my head down. Love better, talk less. I'm not sure I'm really doing either very well. Snika-peaks, this post is for you.

I believe that transparency is the way we love.

My freshman year of college I lived on the first floor of a large, all-girls dormitory. Across the hall lived two girls—Krista and Anna. Krista was the salutatorian of her high school in Oregon. She always spoke in a baby voice and she loved princesses. Her roommate, Anna, was a very small girl. She looked very much like a thirteen-year-old boy, as the old people she later worked with at a senior citizens’ center told her. In high school, Anna was a very shy girl. A very shy girl, who had no friends. So she decided that, when she came to college, she was going to like people and be social.

Anna quickly became the center of our floor. Our leader and our resident sage. One day, I was talking with her about my life—as we all did because she was the coolest girl on the floor—probably about some boy I was trying to negotiate, and she said, offhandedly and knowingly, “You can’t love someone if you can’t talk to them.” She said it like I agreed with her, like I already knew that was true. And I remember nodding. “Yup, so true.”

But over the years, I’ve remembered that and thought about it. What Anna was saying was kind of audacious. She was saying, you can’t love someone, if you can’t talk to them. You can’t love someone, if you can’t talk to them.

I think this means at least two things: One, it certainly means that if you find yourself unable to say things that are meaningful to you to another person, then you probably don’t love that person. That an inability or a reluctance to say things to someone else is a sign of deeper troubles. But two, I think this means something else, something harder. I think it means that if we don’t talk to people, if we don’t say meaningful things to them, if we don’t have the ability or the capacity to communicate how we feel and what we think, then we are not doing the work of loving. We are not loving.

There are people who disagree with me about this. They say that they are able to show their love for people in ways other than by talking, by being really good at body language, or something. And it’s true that we do communicate a lot of things by what we do and how we act, apart from the words that we say. But I say this: you may be very good at body language, but the person you’re loving might not be. And talking is so cheap (economically speaking). It might be, it turns out, an issue of least-cost avoiding.

For instance, in Brian Greene’s book The Elegant Universe, he says (apparently, according to an erstwhile boyfriend) that one of the ways we know that we are living in at least four dimensions is that there are at least four things you have to tell someone in order to successfully arrange a meeting with them. You have to tell them where to be longitudinally, latitudinally, altitudinally (how far up from the earth), and at what time. For example, meet me at the corner of 24th and Broadway, on the third floor, on Tuesday at 3.

You could, it’s true, try to communicate all of these things via body language. OR, or you could just say: hey, let’s meet at the corner of 24th and Broadway, on the third floor, on Tuesday. Talking is a low-cost way of communicating and it allows a level of specificity and fluidity that body language does not. But the point is this: if we don’t communicate these things, if we can’t communicate them, then we won’t end up where we want to be with the people we want to be there.

What I’m arguing for is transparency. I think we have a responsibility, the necessity, to be as transparent as we can be in at least our personal relationships with people. We can’t love someone, if we aren’t telling them what we’re thinking and how we feel about it. We aren’t loving them if we aren’t telling them those things. And we aren’t making it possible for them to love us, if we aren’t trying to make it easier for them to tell us what matters to them, if we aren’t trying to make it easier for them to be transparent.

I do want to recognize that we are all bad at this. We are all bad at this. You are bad at it, and I am certainly bad at it. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: if talking were law school, we’d all—all—be in the lowest tier.

But the Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Dillard says that there is no such thing as talent (except in the fields of music, mathematics, and chess—and if you have such a gift, you’d know it by now). She says that we like to believe that people are born with innate talents because we like to think that the amazing things they do are easy for them, “that Rembrandt painted because he ‘had to’.” She says: “We want to believe all these nonsensical things in order to get ourselves off the hook.”

Loving people is hard work. Talking to people is hard work. Transparency is hard work. But valuing transparency, working towards transparency, is the stuff of loving. That’s the clarion call: transparency! Transparency. It’s the way we invite people around us to be where we are. It’s the way we end up where we want to be with the people we want to be there. Transparency is the way we love.


Limon said...

My goodness! I have spent the last few weeks thinking that in a lot of ways I have not progressed in the past four years. Then I realized one way that I have really grown. And it is transparency. I can tell you that trying to become transparent makes life messier. (In so many ways it's very easy to be opaque.) But the goal of transparency is worth the mess. Thanks.

Melissa said...

Thank you very much for posting this, Sarah. It reminds me of some very insightful comments you made at a dating panel I once attended. They seem to have stuck with me. Actually, that panel may have been the only event of its kind where I can remember having learned something useful.

Rebecca said...

Wow. Let's talk about this (because we love each other) in person. March 26-ish? We'll be here. Wouldn't think of missing it.

UsedToBeDay said...

Interesting theory. I'm wishing now that I had read The Five Love Languages. Perhaps I'll read it and get back to you :)

Until then, I'm not sure I completely agree with this, but I do agree with your thought about how we must all work at being better at this- at least I need to... I also agree that transparency is one way in which my current relationship is different than any other I've had.

More pondering is needed. Thanks for your insight. I always enjoy a good theory on love :)

Mark said...

HMMMM...this is very interesting. I am sitting here speaking with some friends: 1 femail and 2 males. One of my male friends upon hearing the question: "Can you love someone if you can't talk to them?" responded by saying, "Sure, it's what every male hopes for."

So, I'm still trying to process this in light of the comment made by my friend Nate. Clearly, in a non-romantic, plutonic way, one can definitely love someone who they can't talk to. If we are talking about a romantic relationship, then I think there is no way this works.

Petra said...

I like this. And I need to work on transparency. And this post inspired me to call up a friend and apologize to him. So you have done your good deed for the day/week/whenever.

kt said...

John 8: 32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

I am a big believer that this is true. That charity requires "seeing as we are seen, and knowing as we are known" (D&C 76:94, 1 Corinthians 13:12)

HOWEVER, the thought of talking in order to love - I do not necessarily agree. The thing is, I talk and talk and talk and I don't now that I am very good at loving others. I think that there can be discernment and love without talking - but I do agree with you that talking facilitates often.

I think, too, of God. The reality is that prayer and openness with Him doesn't increase His love for us - but maybe it helps us to perceive His love. Or maybe it helps us to love him better. Obviously talking is key there...

I'll continue to think about this.

love you, SO.

Steve said...

"You can't love someone if you can't talk to them." I declare this statement true. To the gainsayers who claim to invalidate it by saying they love people without talking much, I say: the quote doesn't require two people to do a lot of talking, it just requires them to be capable of talking. One can usually say (or write, or sign) what absolutely must to be said in very few words.
In that spirit: I love you, Sarah Olson. You are a good friend, and we haven't talked in ages! But we can, and that's what matters.