Friday, November 5, 2010
I'm told I am twenty-six years old and although I do not remember any real difference from when I was sixteen, that's probably the ghost of sentience giving me a false sense of continuity. I must have mutated a lot since then. Part of this process is reportedly maturation -- I am not certain on whether this is a real thing or an imaginary effect embroidered by thousands of years of literature, but I generally give these common knowledge concepts more the time of day now than I used to in the past. Does that prove something? I guess I'm less angry, less determined to change the world and more stoic and trying to accept the world as it is now. Is that what maturity's supposed to feel like? I don't know. I don't feel wiser in any case. Just more sensitive.
Here's a thing I'm more sensitive about lately. As most of you readers know by now, I'm an overthinker and an introvert pressuring himself to be an extrovert. I find social situations difficult and I've tried to stick to methods I feel work in order to get through them relatively unscathed. I avoid - if I can - gatherings of people where I have to interact with too many of them at once - not good at spreading myself thin - and when I talk to a specific individual, I try to have a real conversation with them. I always used to think this is a no-lose strategy as far as honoring the social code goes, even if they didn't end up liking my personality per se at the end of the meeting.
I'm slowly realizing that that's a wrong approach. It has to do with the discrete social differences between talking with someone and having a conversation with them.
I'm an introverted person who turns to the arts for self-expression. When I make something, a picture or song or comic or whatever else, that's enough in itself as far as self-expression goes. This is the reason I often make art and do not show it to many people at all. This makes sense as it is cowardly. A conversation with oneself really, art. The person who is not artistically inclined would have to suffer much greater risk when they want to express something: they'd have to talk to another human being face to face.
So when I do engage in conversation with people, what I'm after is not a lot of self-exposition, I don't discuss to turn the conversation on me even if I talk about my experiences a lot. It's always building towards an extrnal construct to be scrutinized by both parties, tinkered with and disassembled for mutual interest. Because I find other people fascinating through the subject, I learn a lot through this, a lot about them, their sense of reality and in informs my own point of view and reality as well. I don't express, I am impressed upon.
So when people talk to me, I often default to engaging in conversation with them, instead of just listening to them until they're done. Those of you who are like me probably immediately know what I'm talking about when you read this. With age I'm beginning to realize that whereas, when I am comfortable with someone, I want to converse with them on a topic with a degree of rigor and achieve a positive movement through the argument, when most other people are comfortable with someone, what they want to do is express themselves in that safe space. They get really ticked off - though they don't always show it - when the conversationalist is trying to move their self-expression towards argument time.
The social code for these two situations is very different. One encourages and rewards rhetoric and logical gambits, it's almost a game of 'let's see who can find the smartest solution on what we're talking about'. The other rewards patience and non-judgment until some serenity is achieved. One state is problem-solving, the other is problem-accepting. Both are very valid impulses.
Most people who do not make art do not have a direct way to work themselves out, that is, to problem-solve the art coward way, without needing other people and their hanging judgments. Their mirror isn't painting or music or writing, it is other people. Fractures hang in the balance when they express themselves in that space.
So slowly I'm adopting a new mode of social interaction with new people (and some old people I've perhaps misunderstood). When they talk to me, I don't mistake that for a conversation. The implication is that people want to talk to me - sometimes at length - and I should mostly keep quiet. They'd never say that out loud but that's what's going on. If they want me to tell them my opinion, they'll nudge me for it, it's not taken for granted that because they're talking to me on a subject that appears within limits, it really is.
This probably reads as painfully basic to half of you. Just think of the other half that's struggling to realize this social nuance for decades.
Also it might be too late for me to change my social persona on this level. The people that know me and hang out with me are usually logical debaters. Like seeks alike and all. If I start to go quiet they'll take that a sign of boredom or frustration. So I'll have to choose when to test this out well.
For people like me, when we're told something and we do not have something to reply with we feel unease and almost anxiety, as if we're failing some social test and we'll not be liked and popular because we didn't have something profound to offer. On the other hand, for those that seek self-expression through talk, the constant barrage of the opinion-nerds is suffocating and exhausting.
I'm not going to be a therapist for every person I meet. But instead of taking sociality for granted, let's instead keep this as a reminder: when people want to talk and self-express, even if there's violence or ignorance in their mode, that's still part of human interaction. The choices should not be binary: either even-handed logical analytical debate or abject silence. It's a difficult thing for me to internalize, but I'm trying.