I am a stranger in a strange land.
I’ve done something more notable than even Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals. (Yawn.)
I went out in the world and listened. To another person. Hells to the yeah.
It was the most startling experience.
A conversational pause does not mean the person has finished speaking.
–Tom B. Taker
Interpreting every single pause since the dawn of time as “my turn to talk” means you are an asshole.
–Tom B. Taker
My wife was speaking to me. I was listening. Wow. I know. It can happen. Okay, okay. Stay calm. Don’t blow it. Keep it together, man. So far so good.
Then she paused.
This was an industrial heavy-duty kind of a pause. A good ten seconds. In today’s world that is literally an eternity. I had my feelers out. Was she done? Was she waiting on me to comment? Was it my turn?
I still don’t know what came over me but I decided to wait. I was in it for the long haul.
Then, simply, she continued. And she expressed an additional thought that added more to what she had just previously said. A thought that, if I had interrupted, I would never have heard for the rest of my life.
This is it, I thought! The land of milk and honey over the rainbow. That land that assholes never get to see.
It was so earth shattering that a few days later I even tried it again.
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Hyppo and Critter: Unrequited Dangles
How me-oriented are we as communicators? Allow me to introduce my newest creation. I’m calling it the “unrequited dangle.”
I’ll start with a real life example. This actually happened. I shit you not.
Person A: Someone very close to me died yesterday.
Person B: Did you see my new shoes? What do you think?
One person is feeling vulnerable and shares a delicate thought. They dangle the bait hoping to catch a sincere moment of intimacy. I guess. I mean, why else say something like that?
The other person may actually care about the speaker. It’s unclear from this example. Let’s go out on a limb and assume that they do. (The alternative is that they are merely a pure selfish asshole and, although likely, isn’t particularly useful to the point at hand that I’m trying to make.) Assuming the person actually cares, what just happened?
Their “me bubble” was so powerful that the pain and hurt of the other person did not penetrate. It simply bounced off. This me-oriented communicator is literally unaware of the message that was sent in their direction. In strict technical terms, communication did not take place.
My daily life is replete with these moments of unrequited dangles. Granted, most of these happen with people who are flaming assholes, but some are sincere friends and the assumption is that they actually care. What then? These damaged communicators aren’t even aware of what they do.
My wife and her friend are both really good cooks. They recently put out a seven-course meal for some friends. It was an evening of small plates complete with wine pairings. The way she told the story to me it sounded like an episode of Top Chef. Each dish was brought out, described along with the wine pairing.
As people who know my wife learned of this, an unintended science experiment was the result. In three separate cases, my wife was approached and asked about the seven-course evening.
In one case, she was only able to describe one dish, the first, before that prompted the person asking to interrupt and launch into a grand telling of a story of her own. That person never thought, at any point, to ever return to what my wife had to say. Score: 1 out of 7.
The second experience was similar, except my wife was able to describe three courses before the same thing happened. Score: 3 out of 7.
Now, here’s the wacky part. The third experience was with a gerbil. This young person is a friend of our son’s and has frequently graced the pages of this blog. He asked about the dinner and … get this … he listened as my wife described them all. All! Mothafucka! Score: 7 out of 7.
This gerbil, who figured prominently in The Adventure of the Raspberry Bar (still unsolved!), who has lived at home since graduating high school, who has a medical marijuana card and is on food stamps and has never held down a job – he was the only one willing to allow another human being the courtesy of relating the whole story when asked. My wife’s so-called friends came up woefully short.
Final score: 10 out of 21. That’s a scientifically-computed listening rate of less than 50 percent. Conclusion: Humans are doomed.
We all think we’re the center of the universe – and we treat each other just like that. Truth be told, however, we’re not quite as important as we like to think. Not by a long shot.