Sunday, July 16, 2006
Over the past weeks and months, something has been creeping up on my consciousness, and while I was at work recently, inadvertently eavesdropping on a conversation between four or five customers, The Nose, The Fly, and The Old Man, it occurred to me that not a single one of the participants was really listening to what any of the other participants were saying..
Instead, they would let the speaker get approximately 40% of what they were saying out before running over them with a comment of their own. The strange thing was that the resulting comment often had only a slight relevance to the original comment... or sometimes no relevance at all!
Nobody seemed any the worse for the wear over this, no feathers were particularly ruffled, and nobody left in a huff! What was passing strange to me, and what really stuck in my mind, was that practically no information had been exchanged in the course of this conversation. Everyone left with practically the same level of understanding that they had begun with. Not a single new concept, idea, or piece of information had been given or recieved. At the time, I wondered, precisely, what the point of the exercise was at all?! After everyone went thier own way, I found that my mind kept getting called back to this conversation, and turning it over and over in my mind... letting various things simply bubble up to the top of my thoughts...
At some point, it occurred to me that that particular conversation had never had as its purpose the exchange of information or ideas... it was a social dance... a way of getting past barriers... and method by which the awkward realities of a relationship that exists chiefly for the purpose of commerce is made to appear to be a more human relationship, and therefore more palatable and acceptable to all involved. The fact that I hadn't realized this intrinsically completely broadsided me, and raised a number of questions regarding my own level of awareness.. regarding my relationship with others, and with myself... There are different sorts of conversations, and they serve widely various purposes! Imagine that! Why the HELL hadn't I ever realized this before! I missed the whole forest for the trees! Where the hell have I been!?!
I'm not sure why this would be so, now that I have given it some further thought, and now that I have spent some weeks carefully observing people in relation to this.. as I have found it to be the norm rather than the exception - but this struck me as startingly odd at the time.
I was floored actually. And..
The more I watched and observed, the more it became obvious to me that in most cases, nobody really wants to listen to what anybody else has to say!
They listen peripherally, to be sure, but most polite conversation is almost scripted; "Hi, how're ya doing?" "Great!, you?" "Not too bad! This is some weather we're havin', huh?" "Yeah... sposed to be ninety-five on Sunday! So. You been busy, or what?" "It comes and goes... its a strange year... you?" .. in most cases, I know where this conversation is going to go.. and in cases where I don't, I can list the four or five possible choices, and it will be one of them or be related to one of them... it gets tricky when one conversant tries to go outside the bounds of the accepted format.
I started wondering if this was so as pertaining to me... and to my shock and dismay, I found that it was... and even more so than in most other cases.
For one thing, I talk too much... way too much...
I'm not sure why, and I don't like it, but It happens to be true...(dammit!)
You can imagine the awkward and embarassing feeling to suddenly realize that nobody really wants to hear anything that you have to say... not that they are mean or malicious.. they simply don't care.
Everyone is living in a world of their own careful construction. A world that has been painstakingly crafted over years and years of experiences, difficulties, and relationships with others... and the end result is a series of opinions, views, beliefs, preferences, and, in some cases (most cases, I'll wager).. illusions. And when the conversation crosses over into an area that challenges, or highlights an area that doesn't want to be challenged or brought to light, the result is a door slamming squarely in your face! This is understandable, I think... This is, of course, an extreme example. In most cases, people simply want to discuss only those things that they have a direct and urgent interest in... and nothing else. Period.
I can't begin to tell how many times I have had so-called conversations where someone has launched into a detailed description of what they did over the weekend, hour-by-hour and minute-by-minute commentary, with slow-motion replays, itineraries, a complete menu of everything ingested, a list of characters, and a host of resulting opinions and reviews... I listened politely to all of this, was asked "So.. what did you do over the weekend?", inhaled to reply, only to realize that the person was fifteen paces away and gaining distance!
People want to talk. They don't want to listen.
At first, I was all high and mighty about this.. as in, "Nobody wants to listen except for me! Blah-blah-blah!" but, on further examination, in the vast majority of cases, I don't really want to hear it either... and I'm not even completely sure why this is. It surprises me. I would have thought that I was very much the opposite.
I started this post by pointing out that nobody listens... and, this is still true in great part... but, I have no control whatsoever over what others do, or how others act or behave. I do, however, have some control (though somewhat limited, it would seem..) over my own behavior. What began as an observation of others.. and, to be honest, somewhat of an accusation and a judgement, quickly, (and wisely, I might add!) turned inward and became a commentary on my own personality traits, character, and behavior. This is as it should be. Put your own house in order before you start ordering the houses of others, I suppose...
So now I am forced, by the simple and direct truth of my own experiences and observations, to confront a very different image of myself; I don't want to be a loud-mouthed, yammering, yapping fool that nobody wants to have to listen to, and who isn't much of a listener to boot. This sucks.
In the course of instruction in the seminary that I am attending, one of the exercises that we are asked to do is to cultivate a constant awareness of our inner selves. I have been working for months to be constantly mindful of my reactions, my reasons for those reactions, and to be very much aware of what is going on inside of me at any given moment. I don't always undersand it, and I am surprised by my reactions to things more often than not. In this case, honestly, I am sort of disgusted by it... I had a very, very different image of myself, albeit illusory... but it simply doesn't stand up to honest scrutiny. The worst part is that I can't seem to make much headway in changing it... its like I'm stuck in a fixed set of reactions and behavior and when I am faced with a particular set of circumstances, I simply fall back on a familiar set of behaviors.
I really need to break this and to free myself from it.
What I really need to do is shut the fuck up!
At work, honestly, I don't really talk all that much at all... I speak when I am basically forced to speak... when I do decide to say anything, nobody cares to hear it, and they let me know in no uncertain terms... so, obviously, the wisest choice is to keep my trap shut and keep my own counsel.
When I am home, I can't seem to find a middle ground. I am either bombarding the poor unfortunate victim who finds themself in front of me with a hurricane of words, like a dam of thoughts, concepts, and opinions suddenly bursting all over them, washing them away in a flood of sentences and commentary.... or I am silent and reclusive to the point of making them feel uncomfortable. Somewhere along the developmental path, I missed the class on properly and appropriately engaging others or something... It is a sort of rude awakening to suddenly, at the age of 47, come to the realization that one was never properly socialized. Its a bit quieting in and of itself, actually...
I'm not sure why I never realized this before... I am retroactively mortified.
I suppose that this is a first step... but, oh, man...
When I think of the times that I visited, or lived in, other countries... particularly so called 'third-world' countries where I had little or no knowledge of their language... I found that the contacts I made with people, people with whom I could not exchange a single word, mind you.. were particularly positive and memorable.
Simply sitting with another human being, sharing one another's company, perhaps some food or drink.. or perhaps exchanging small gifts, or smiles, or a touch.. a handshake, what have you... were some of the most poignant human contacts of my life.
Conversation and words weren't really necessary to convey basic human emotions. It was simply what it was.
This is not to say that I don't enjoy conversation and the exchanging of ideas, thoughts, and feelings... but I am beginning to suspect that this is an activity that should be severely limited to close friends, and only in those times where it is appropriate and called-for... this sounds simple enough, except that I have no idea when this sort of thing is appropriate or inappropriate, since I generally want to talk to everybody... get to know everybody, exchange jokes and pleasantries with everybody, etc., etc.
I think that in order to understand conversation, I must first learn to understand silence...
I suppose that each one of us has some things about ourselves that must, or should, be changed.. or at least worked on... so this is mine. (or one of mine...)
I don't want to think that folks may avoid me or dislike me because I am a boor or a pain in the ass... so, I have to address this component of my personality.
All in all, I suppose that the spiritual path that I have chosen to embark upon is, at its most basic root, a path of self-transformation... so, I can view this realization concerning myself as some degree of validation that the path is taking root within me and having an observable effect. I am just hoping that I will be able to actually put this to good use and find a way to change the things about myself that should be changed, and to emerge from this process as a better husband, friend, co-worker and human being as a result... otherwise, what is the point of any of it?