How I’ve learned to talk to people

When my friend Dean died no one said anything right. They danced around it or they dwelled on it, they only asked me questions or they only talked about themselves.

It wasn’t until I had recovered from that and listened to someone else talk about a tragedy they experienced that I saw the motivation behind every response I received when I was the one in crisis.

The thing is I did learn from it. I focused on not saying the things that upset me. And I’ve extrapolated that to every meaningful conversation since. When someone says something with emotional weight I always wait. I always let them talk for a long time to get to the heart of the matter.

When I told someone Dean died by suicide and their first response was to ask if he had a drug problem it disgusted me. I understand searching for an explanation but you shouldn’t let that lead you to blurting out victim-blaming questions.

A friend of mine was attacked recently and I spent a lot of energy listening, never implying fault, and balancing the urge to dwell with the urge to avoid.

Then we were out with someone less insightful whose first question was “were you being mouthy?” and I just rolled my eyes.

This is where the idea that I’m harsh and judgemental comes from. I work really hard on myself, and I think obsessively about making sure the message I’m sending is the message being received. I hold myself to pretty high standards so it’s too easy for me to be disappointed.

Recently a co-worker recounted our first conversation. And it was complicated because she remembered the emotions involved so differently than I did. And that created the frame that every conversation we had since followed the dynamic set out that day. I learned all of this at the staff party when I made a causal joke and she objected in a way that set off my spidey sense.

So I asked her why she thought she thought what I thought of her.

And I desperately made my actual opinion known to her.

This is the problem I often run into. Being totally honest still gets filtered thru the mind of the receiver, and if the listener has low self-esteem then they will hear neutral statements as negative.

So like I say, true honesty doesn’t mean blurting out your feeling but knowing what you want to say and making sure the listener picks that up.

Because it’s an asshole statement to say “I told you…” when you know full well you hid what you meant.

Life isn’t a series of contracts. It’s not okay to hide something from someone and then act proud of yourself because they trusted you and didn’t ask the right questions. I hate it when people talk about Technicalities in everyday speech.

I agree that the truth shall set you free and I agree that freedom is more than the freedom to be comfortable. Leaving lies behind means asking more questions of yourself and of others.

Part Two: How I’ve Learned Not To Talk To People

I heard a comedian a while ago talk about how there’s always someone from a smaller town. Start talking about how small your town was and instantly someone will drop from the ceiling to tell you their town is smaller. It was a funny bit but IRL that’s something that drives me nuts; when people turn everything into a contest. Talk about the weather and suddenly it’s a pissing contest about who’s experienced the hottest, coldest, most rain, whatever.

I blame capitalism for teaching us the only way something has worth is if no one has something better.

But I get it, it’s an infinite and meaningless universe while our lives are fleeting seconds of disjointed narratives and we all want our experiences to have worth. They don’t, really. But they have as much worth to you as you assign them. What I can’t stand is when something is said from a view of supremacy rather than sincere sharing.

Which is what I think a conversation should be. I think ideas and experiences should be offered to one another.

And this isn’t to say that I’m not competitive. I like competing in actual contests with parameters and rankings. And then oddly that’s what most people don’t like. I think  sometimes we’ve been taught that competitiveness is a bad characteristic. Also everyone believes they’re a truly precious snowflake and if you compete you might lose and that would wound that self image.

It gets taken a step further when someone just wants to win a conversation, people who start an argument, because they want to bolster their self esteem by being smarter than you. I know this because I used to do it, it’s a very teenage habit. And it was fun for a while, being a verbal ninja and using people’s words against them, quoting things I didn’t believe just to make a point, etc. But I outgrew it. I remember exactly when too.

I was at Vern’s and someone made a comment about how often musicians get laid. And everyone jumped in with opinions and every bad arguing habit.


And I just gave up. I realized that I don’t care about being smarter than people I don’t care about. And I know that once a conversation becomes an argument no one will back down, they’ll move the goal posts, etc, and never admit it.

So I stopped getting into arguments where I knew the other person would never admit if I demonstrated they were wrong.

The problem becomes almost no conversations become worth having once you eliminate negative things, decide to be totally honest, and hate small talk. So I get told I’m grumpy or quiet when really it’s just that someone isn’t worth talking to at that moment.

I always want a conversation to be a sharing of ideas and experiences, I want everyone to be totally honest, I want everyone to be concise when making a point and patient when hearing one. To not have someone talk just to reinforce their own persona or raise their sense of worth. That’s a crazy high standard considering I spend all my time hanging out in bars. But when I do get a good conversation it’s deeply rewarding, more so than just showing off ever could be.


Singer/songwriter, jerk.

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