The Sweet Risk of “Full Speech”

Food for Thought

A transactional conversation is full of clichés and niceties and does not reveal true feelings or thoughts. In business, we prefer it because it lets us quickly achieve definable objectives—at least, this is the assumption.

Lacan called it “empty speech” in contrast to “full speech,” which reveals the speaker’s subjective truth. Instagram consists mostly of empty speech. It’s misleading because we often see the contributors themselves in the form of selfies. They may assume they are expressing themselves, i.e., their subjectivity, but in most cases, they are simply presenting themselves as conforming to societal expectations or standards (of beauty, success, desirability, etc.). Their true feelings remain safely hidden behind this facade.

Friendships and love relationships do not have definable objectives. If you define a friend as “someone to have fun with,” that friend becomes replaceable as long as you can have fun with them. You don’t need to know their subjective truth to enjoy a fun day at the beach. Perhaps some people’s idea of friendship is transactional like this, but I imagine that most people yearn for something deeper. For that, we need to encourage “full speech.” It doesn’t have to be confined to a psychoanalyst’s office.

However, full speech is deceptively hard. When we intentionally share our deepest feelings, we tend to edit them to be more socially acceptable or easier on our egos, which is why free associations, dreams, and Freudian slips tend to work better. One alternative is a heated argument.

When we find ourselves vehemently defending our positions on trivial matters like travel plans, child care, or dirty dishes, the subject matter is secondary. Some type of subjective truth is expressed through it, where the topic is simply used as a vehicle to carry the truth, almost like a decoy. It is an opportunity to deepen a friendship or love relationship, but we tend to avoid it because it feels awkward or painful. Some consider it rude.

It is risky because this is how relationships can break down. Like fugu (pufferfish), the closer the meat is to the toxin, the sweeter it tastes.