You Can't Hear Me
People often assume that because I'm a writer, I must be great at getting across what I mean in conversation. That when I open my mouth, eloquence ushers forth like a fountain.
The reality is that most of the time, I feel like I have a short circuit between my brain and my mouth, and I struggle to find a way to get what I'm thinking past my brain, into words, and out of my mouth.
I recall one conversation I had with a good friend where my response came out absolutely wrong. I knew it the moment I said it. The words alone were enough for my brain to flash red warning lights, but her face also told me my answer was hurtful.
I didn't mean it the way it came out, but for the life of me, I couldn't come up with how I could have said it differently. I grasped at straws for several minutes.
After she left, I continued to ponder on the conversation. Two weeks later, I figured out what I should have said.
This is why I like writing things like novels: I can go back for weeks at a time to fix the manuscript until it says what I want it to. I can show a scene to my critique group. When something comes across in a way totally different than how I intended, they point it out, and I can change it before anyone else reads it.
I have a chance to fix my words.
In real life, I rarely have such opportunities, and the effect is that I often hurt people. The fact that I have strong opinions doesn't help matters, because I'll state them, and apparently, I'm not always smart enough to soften them in public or be aware or how they come out.
Sometimes I hurt people in verbal, face-to-face conversations, and other times it's in e-mail, where we don't have the benefit of intonations and body language to help figure out what the other means.
Several years ago, I was involved in such an e-mail "conversation." (Okay, it was an ugly argument in a public forum.) I said a lot of nasty things on my end, things I'm not proud about. I don't think either of us handled the situation all that well, but as we were popping off e-mails back and forth over several days, I wasn't taking time to really think through my words to see if what I meant and the tone I intended was coming across accurately.
Then I got another e-mail. I don't recall the exact words, but it said something along the lines of how I'm really good at making people feel small, and how I must know that and enjoy it.
I stared at the screen, feeling as if I'd been punched in the gut. I knew what it felt like to be made to feel small. But over the course of the argument, I hadn't meant to belittle anyone. Sure, I was trying to outwit my opponent. I was probably sarcastic and snarky and more.
But I hadn't realized I was hurting her, putting her down, making her feel as if I was stepping on her and wiping her off the bottom of my shoe.
In the darkness of the room, I wept, staring at the monitor for a long time. It was a harsh lesson, but one I needed to learn. I didn't want to be the person she'd described. I replied saying I was sorry and that I'd be stepping back from the forum for awhile.
It's been my great fortune that the other party has forgiven my stupidity and is now, literally, one of my best friends in the whole world. Today, I'm grateful she called me out on that.
I've tried hard since then to not belittle others in the same way. Unfortunately, every so often, I find out it's happened again . . . never intentionally on my part, but it seems to be almost like a reflex. I'm really good at smacking people down without realizing it.
Sometimes it's with situations I really have no control over. (I find out someone is intimidated by my knowledge of grammar. In that case, I shrug and move on, because there's nothing I can do about that.) Other times, it's something I said or wrote, or maybe a comment I made or something I said on a blog post. Maybe something else.
And I realize that I haven't quite learned the lesson. It always comes as a shock to me when someone calls me on the carpet, telling me I was mean or rude and need to apologize or that I was hurtful or whatever.
Then, confused and hurt, I mentally rewind what happened and view it from their lens. And I realize that yep, that could have been seen as rude or hurtful. I didn't mean it that way. If they saw into my heart and knew the entire story or history and why I said it that way and how I really think, they wouldn't have been hurt. They wouldn't have judged it that way. But I didn't say it right to begin with.
And they were hurt. Are hurt. I needed to be more sensitive in how I approached the topic. I hurt someone.
Over the years, I've thought about how we'll communicate in the next life. I've heard theories about how maybe we'll be able to get entire ideas across with our minds without having to resort to speaking words.
That idea is tantalizing to me. I already wish I could take entire thoughts, feelings, and histories from my head and insert them into others' minds with a swoop of my hand.
Now do you see what I see? Feel what I feel? Do you understand what I mean?
As much as I adore words, I hate them just as much. They limit me. They cause confusion and hurt and miscommunication. I think the urgency to make people hear my thoughts and understand what is in my mind is one reason (aside from the genetic component) that I talk fast. Words hold me back. I want to get the thought out of my head and into the other person's.
I pray that one of these days I'll be able to open my mouth, truly speak what's inside, and be understood.
To be able to type what's in my heart without fear that it'll be the wrong thing and that I'll be misjudged.
That someone will not be hurt by me. Again.
Because just when I get comfortable, thinking I've made it, that I've finally learned the lesson and know how to prevent it from happening, I do it again.
The cycle is repeated.
I'll keep trying, but I don't know how to overcome it, once and for all.