Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holding Back: What's the Reason?

I'm often right at the cusp of saying something.  I don't always say it.  I think this happens a lot, to a lot of people.  Why is it that we don't say what we think?

It must be about controlling our perception in the eyes of other people, right?  What else?

I don't think it unnatural that other people keep us quiet, or that we might feel as if we should have said or done things we didn't in fact do.  We're worried about making the right actions, choices, and statements, and the more options the more we can worry.  It is precisely because of this worry that we edit our words before we say them.  We edit them so that our perceived audience receives our message in a certain way.

 But in a society with increasing options, we should care less.

Actually, I'm not sure that's true.  It cuts both ways.  If we have less options, perhaps we should talk more to get a fuller understanding of potential consequences, whereas if there are more options--and the options stay open to us after we start to choose one of them--then we could talk less about the options because they'll have less weight.  At the same time, because they are more superficial, we shouldn't feel restrained.

And then there's the basic fact: A lot of the ability to talk comes from knowledge about a subject. I don't know a lot about a lot of things, so maybe I don't talk that much about stuff because I don't know what to say, or where to start.

Even as I write this, though, I recognize another subtle fact: as we accumulate knowledge, the goal posts of what expertise means move farther afield.  Perhaps the experts themselves are the most doubtful about what they say, and hence, the most careful.

I used to have a boss.  She was very very smart and she knew that. She protected it.  She didn't want anyone to intrude on this aspect of who she was.  This is understandable, to the extent that I can understand it.  Every time she gave a public presentation, I was flummoxed by what she said--I didn't understand it.  Later on, I started to gain knowledge to what she had knowledge of, and I realized that she actually didn't know the information that well, and was throwing up all sorts of details as a smoke screen so that she didn't have to face another basic fact: even really smart people have to spend time learning stuff when they can't get it right away.  It's an odd paradox, smart people.  Because qualifying as "smart" is almost like qualifying as "rich," in that it says something about necessary effort, or the lack thereof.  That's a cultural artifact I know, because we glamorize the rich and the smart.  There's a fine line between getting enough recognition to have self-worth and receiving too much praise so that you become spoiled and expect to understand everything right away, or not do any work.

Anyway, what's the point here?  There's lots of reasons for people to hold back.  Almost all of them are relative and related to the context of the situation.  If you've ever looked at yourself in the mirror and acted one way, only to get to a situation and act an entirely different way, you know what I mean.  If you've ever silently nodded with the raving lunatic in the subway without explicitly making it evident that you agree by talking with him, you know what I mean.  If you've ever felt insecure, nervous, worried, and frightened, you know what I mean.

Part of the solution to all of this is building up a patience to live within a changing emotional world that isn't always positive, and that isn't always peaceful, and to maintain consistency.  We must navigate potential conflicts everywhere.  I think that the more we are able to take conflicts a step at a time, to restrain all of those screaming desires to tell people what we "really" think, the more successful we can be--and I mean that in terms of accomplishing a goal, and also growing in our understanding of the world.

And that's enough for a saturday morning.  Have a nice day!

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