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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Intellectual intercourse interruptions
Who doesn’t love a healthy dose of intercourse? I know I do.
But before proceeding further, perhaps we’d better define things a bit. Possible (and germane to this posting) definitions of the word include:
(noun) exchange especially of thoughts or feelings
(noun) communication and actions between people
For the purposes of this discussion we will disregard other definitions. (Minds out of the gutter, people!)
Sadly, these days, true intercourse is such a rare thing I feel like we’ve all taken a vow of interpersonal celibacy.
So what is “communication?” Don’t answer too quickly. The question is just a bit trickier than it seems.
Ask that question of any member of genus Modern Homo Sapiens and you’ll likely get an answer like this: “Communication is when I speak and you listen.” Note the implied message here: The reverse is not automatically true.
What I learned in college is that “communication” requires four essential components:
- Sender (shown above as “emisor”)
- Receiver (shown as “destination”)
- Message (shown as “content”)
- Medium (shown as “form”)
“Medium” is the method of transmitting a message. It could be sound waves traveling from my mouth to your ear. It could be an electrical signal connecting two telephones across the country. Or it could be something like a computer disc.
The point here is that, as far as communication is concerned, all four of those components are vital. If any single component is missing then communication cannot take place.
The model depicted above, it turns out, is incorrect. Like a lot of theories, our understanding can change over time. The modern era has proven the old model of communication to be insufficient and outdated. The time has come to revise our theories.
Generation Y may be the most “bombarded” in history. Baby boomers and Generation X mainly had to deal with television. But Gen Y is faced with omnipresent cell phones, texting, the internet, and a constant barrage of new media that is close to infringing on their brains in a continually 24/7 assault.
Think 24/7 is a bit of hyperbole? An exaggeration? Think again. A 2010 poll by the Pew Research Group found that two-thirds of American adults have slept with their phones on or right next to their beds. And that number jumps to over 90% in the 18 to 29 age group.
That is an amazing poll! I would argue that never before in the history of civilization has a generation taken adopted such a completely new behavior so universally and in such a short period of time.
It used to be that self-expression was limited to entertainers and authors. The vast majority of the public limited themselves to expression in the form of tshirts and bumper sticker.
These days, the soap box has gotten immensely bigger and the world a whole lot smaller. The internet has made “publishers” out of us all. We went from a culture of consumers to a society of producers at light speed. Now we all can have our own video channels, recording studios, art galleries, photo exhibits, blogs and even interactive social networking where we are rated, respected, judged and admired based on how many “followers” and “friends” we have garnered.
In other words, there has been an intense paradigm shift. No longer do we merely and passively absorb content that is beamed in our direction. Now we actively create it.
To put it in a slightly different perspective, it is now about the “me” more than ever before.
And this is exactly where communication has taken a hit.
Your typical modern human being is so busy generating “me-based” content, that this activity has essentially formed a new and unforeseen barrier in the outdated communication model. I have dubbed this discovery the “Me-Barrier.”
This Me-Barrier is so intense and invasive, it can actually block the communication process. An excellent analogy is a person with lips flapping so loudly that their ears can no longer hear other sounds.
Gen Y, absorbed in their own culture, and raised within it since birth, is completely unaware of the Me-Barrier. They see other persons as nothing more than mirrors to be used only to seek their own reflections. Their awareness is limited to social “pinging” which exists solely to see if the other person is talking about or responding to them. If not, the person is deemed irrelevant and the person either resumes transmission of me-based content or begins searching for a new audience. In either case, the acceptance of outside input and stimuli does not take place. There is no communication.
To put all of this in context, you can look for and identify this phenomenon and Me-Barrier in daily life. Do you know someone who loves to tell stories about themselves in excruciating detail but won’t ever listen to anyone else? Do you know someone who interrupts whenever anyone speaks or attempts to join in a conversation? If so, you have just successfully identified the Me-Barrier.
Once you know how to look for it, you’ll notice that the Me-Barriers are more plentiful than you could have ever possibly imagined.
In my own personal experience, I happen to be one member of a three-person team at my job. Two members have extremely developed Me-Barriers. These function much like the guns in the movie Ghostbusters where it was strongly admonished, “Never cross the streams!” When Me-Barriers come into contact with each other, the sparks can really fly!
I can only sit back and clinically observe as these two people interrupt each other then begin an escalation in the form of vocalizations that get increasingly loud. It only takes a few microseconds for them both to be yelling over the top of the other and neither of them are listening. It is truly a sight to see. (And hear.)
Normally, identifying the problem is the first step towards working for a solution. In this case, however, I sadly see no way out. Our culture, our society, and even our entire country is at risk, due to the Me-Barrier and it’s powerful interruption of the flow of knowledge. Soon we’ll be left with nothing but drooling idiots talking to ourselves.
This is my “I” post for the April 2011 “A to Z Blogging Challenge.”
Speak, reap and weep
Me: [hanging up my cell phone] “Well, my wife is back in urgent care.”
Boss: “Look at that! We sold two of the XJ-21’s today!”
And they say interpersonal relationships don’t mean much any more. Ha!
You ever met anyone like this? Someone who wants you to hang on every word they say, especially about the excruciating minutia of their day, while they simultaneously take a verbal dump on you every time you speak?
Boss: “Tom, what do you think about adding the XJ-21’s to our web site?”
Me: “Actually, I’ve been working on a template that will…”
Boss: “Cause I think we could sell a few, if only they were up there. Know what I mean?”
Me: “Uh, yeah. Whatever.”
Perhaps the funniest aspect of all of this is how the boss never seems to notice when I’ve checked out of the conversation. I just shut my fuckin’ trap, stare off into space, turn my back on him and return to my computer. Whatever. Whatever!!!
Yep. Hilarious. It’s friggin’ a barrel of laughs to be minimized as a person and stomped on every fucking time you open your mouth. Let’s put on our thinking caps. Do you think there is any possible way treating people like that will have consequences? Think it will encourage them to be the most enthusiastic member of your team? To proactively go out and do things for you? To care about what you have to say when the shoe is on the other foot? Foster bitterness? Loathing? Spite?
Both of the examples above are typical at my job. At no point does anyone ever come back and say, “Eh? Your wife? In urgent care? What’s up with that?” Nope. In one ear and out the other and never to be thought of again, unless, of course, you’re dumb enough to make a second attempt. But I’m usually so fried there is little chance of that.
So yeah, like I alluded to in a recent post, my #1 overriding goal, my prime directive, my mission in life every single time I haul my sorry ass into work is clear and present and always on my mind as I try to go about my duties:
Don’t speak. Don’t attempt to engage enemies in conversation. Speaking only serves to embolden office combatants and facilitates the exchange of power from those who actually care to those who are fucking assholes.
It’s a very worthy goal. One I prostrate myself to continually all day long. I strive to keep it the foremost thing on my mind as I do my job. Even so, I’m only human, so failure is inevitable.
In some ways, it’s more important how you grapple with that failure than striving to meet the goal in the first place. After all, as something that can’t actually be achieved, a goal is little more than a mechanism to getting to your special place. And, at least for me, lovingly embracing failure with self-flagellation is the key.
At last! Only after sweet failure can you come face to face with the one and only persona that will never interrupt or fail to listen. That is, of course, your inner persona. A persona that will truly embrace your thoughts of failure. It’s a persona that’s always there for you.
“Your hubris is especially delicious when it rots.”
“What made you think they’d take interest in that?”
“Why don’t you just offer up your throat next time?”
“You make me sick.”
“Think those bastards give a shit?”
“Please, try that some more. I’m grabbing some popcorn. This will be good!”
Finally, conversations worth having! Even better they don’t have to involve other people who are nothing more than winking assholes.
In the end, the only one you can count on is yourself.
What’s the “take away” here? You have to dig deep to find the goodness, but it’s there. My old friend yin-yang still can be found if we know where to look. The lesson of duality is that if something is especially reaming me out then there must be something else to be learned, too. Right?
It’s like being eviscerated and having your bowels strewn about on the floor in front of you. In that situation you really have two choices. Bitch about the steam or take the opportunity to learn a little something for the future (albeit one that has only a few seconds left).
Instead of bitching about the steam, why not say, “Hey. Thanks for spilling out my entrails. Now I have the chance to practice the art of divination and, just maybe, I can glean my fortune.” Now that’s turning lemons into lemonade!
I guess the flow of a normal workday happens for a reason. It’s the natural order of things. It’s about the daily journey to the place you need to be. You can’t have one without the other. In that respect, I guess the role played by assholes is important after all.
You Have Mouth and I Must Scream
The modern era. As a people we know one thing for sure. We’re the best civilization this planet has ever seen. Hells ya.
And, by no small coincidence, we are the #1 “hey look at me” civilization of all time.
Seriously. Right now. Stop reading this and look at me. I mean it.
It used to be vanity books but that took way too much damn effort. These days it’s as easy as pie. Web sites, twitter, facebook, cell phones, and more, all give voice to a generation that screams, “Hey, look at me!” Hell, there are even some asshole pontificating bloggers who want you to read what they have to say as if they are interesting. (Hey! Don’t look at me that way!)
Naturally just putting out your wit and wisdom for the world to enjoy is usually not quite enough. Not by a long shot. After all, some folks might decide to not listen and/or not pay attention. What the devil should be done about that? Being ignored is unacceptable.
This is where our good, good friend “interrupting” rides in to save the day. Oh yeah.
The principle behind this is simple: Whatever I have to say is of Ultimate Importance and whatever you have to say is just a bunch of bullshit hot air.
You might even say this is the prime directive of our modern era. No doubt it is one of the most basic building blocks of a society that consists solely of assholes.
Let’s try a real life example. Pretend you are doing what you do best, talking about yourself and the painstakingly detailed minutia of your day, yet the other party tries to speak and interject a thought. What should you do?
Interrupt them, that’s what! Forcefully and with malice. Think of it as a conversation beheading.
Most of the time your audacious efforts at interrupting will win the day and the other party will submit. Sometimes, though, this won’t work. After all, they are most likely trying to simultaneously be as big of an asshole as you. They probably think they are important (like a special and unique snowflake) and expect your world to revolve around what they have to say.
Well, if interrupting is good, then even more interrupting is even better! Re-interrupt them. And, here’s the key strategy: Do it louder!
It’s amazing how effective a simple technique like raising your voice can be. This will shut down all but the most hardy of verbal opponents (aka your audience).
I’ve personally seen masters of this at work. Watching two black belt interrupters go at it can be fascinating. But don’t forget to bring your ear plugs! Sometimes the increase in volume can get intense enough to cause hearing loss.
The moment when one of the sparring beasts finally backs down can be one of the most spectacular as ever seen in nature. Even Mutual of Omaha hasn’t properly captured it on film yet. One party is victorious and the other submits and goes into a mode known as, “Whatever, fuckhead. You think I’m going to listen to you???”
I bet if you hone your powers of observation you just might be able to witness this phenomenon as you go throughout your day.
For those of you ready to take things to the next level, to be world-class interrupters, here is a special web site just for you. Now go out there and seize the say!