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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When My Silence is Your Comfort

My friend and I were adding to a long and lively stream of e-mails between us, landing on any and every topic that crosses the mind of one or the other and solving the world's problems in general. She mentioned an event from her young childhood that hasn't left her though decades have passed. A man exposed himself to her and her girlfriend, not overtly with noise and fanfare, but in a rather sneaky way that may have allowed him a narrow opportunity to say that his nakedness was unintentional. My friend remembers that she knew this was "wrong" and "bad", but she also remembers that she felt compelled to be "polite". One feels it would have been far beyond her ability to have said, "Hey, beat it, you freak!" or to have screamed out, "Pervert here, bothering little girls!" No, the lily wagger got by with it, perhaps to live on and show his business again the next day in the park. The innocent young girl grew into a woman who isn't precisely traumatized by the event, but hasn't forgotten it and muses upon her reaction to it.

My personal violations are not exactly the same. No stranger exposed himself to me in the park in my tenderest years. The similarity between my friend's experience and many of my own is this: some of us are so willing to be "polite", not blow the whistle, not make any waves, we will do that even to our own detriment, safety and peace of mind. Did we once possess that little bit of attitude, that disregard for the niceties, that willingness to call a spade exactly that? Was it beaten out of us in one way or another? Or were we convinced very young that we just shouldn't say things outright, perhaps that no one was interested enough to listen or pay attention and our best hope in life was just to be polite?

It happens I appreciate people who just say what they're thinking. Oh, sometimes they make one a bit uncomfortable, but little is left to the imagination. No fantasies, good or bad, need be constructed. No bullshit among the straightforward, right? I am still not completely forthcoming with exactly what I think in every single situation. Age and menopause have brought me a little closer to outspokenness. The courage of my convictions and an appreciation of the things I know well has bucked me up, somewhat. But I am still rather accommodating to those I encounter who may prefer not to hear my actual reaction to their words or behavior.

If you are one who takes comfort from the silence of certain others, here are some things to consider:
  • Though some of you think we are dumb, we're not necessarily. Our failure to bark in your face does not mean we believe what you've just said. Nor do we forget it. One doesn't want to think s/he has put one over on us.
  • When you say, every time we see one another, "Girl, I'm going to call you next week for lunch - it's been too long!", we don't hold our breath any more.
  • When you say "Just because _____, doesn't mean _____," we know that's exactly what it means.
  • When you say the same thing to us over and over and over again, but your words aren't followed by any action to support them, you can stop telling us whatever it is. We don't believe you any more.
  • When you tell us in vivid detail about your latest exploit that most people would find shocking, do not mistake our silence for approval. Maybe we're simply not up to screaming "Slut!" or "Bastard!" at you.
  • When you take an unpopular stand on something in a group, do not misconstrue our quietude for solidarity. Perhaps we're simply embarrassed we brought you along and don't wish to call attention to ourselves or you.
  • Sitting at lunch together, when you say, "Don't think _____. That's not how it is.", be warned: we know that's just precisely how it is.

If you are one who takes comfort from the silence of certain others, here are some other things to consider: perhaps you seek out those you know will be silent because you are unwilling to face your own nonsense. They won't force you to do that, either. Maybe you pontificate to the quiet ones because it makes you feel pretty good about yourself. You might blow smoke up the butts of such people, because you can and no one challenges you. There is a chance you do these things to avoid relating with other human beings in any real way. My friend coined a most beautiful phrase: "Such people are addicted to deception. They thrive on misrepresentation undisputed."

Although I have come a way down the road, I doubt I'll hang my head out of the car window tomorrow and say "Damn, that's an ugly hat, old lady!" I probably won't immediately start in on everyone I know with "Stop spinning it, I'm not buying it." At least not in every situation. At AA, when someone yammers on until I want to scream, I'm unlikely to say, "Hey, I think you're drunk now!" But I feel I could manage, in honor of my friend, "Hey, Mister, your dick is out and I'm not appreciating it. Put it away before I call a cop," if such a situation presented itself. Sometimes we take on the bigger tasks first and fill in the blanks later with the little stuff.


  1. silence often goes hand in hand with secrets. though I may curse my city inspector up one side of the street and down the other rarely will I point out another's insufficiencies unless we both happen to be behind the wheel where I will happily toss out a double bird at the guy who blocks the intersection.

  2. @ Tag ~ Oh, my friend, you are GOOD! In a recent exercise for AA and another pursuit, I did some reflection upon my own life and others that have intersected it. I was required to come up with role in life's play for myself. I landed on "secret keeper". It fits me beautifully. Part of that was foisted upon me very young and then I became such an apt pupil. Secret Keeper is a very bad storage receptacle. Oh, the lid fits down nice and tightly, but when one finally peels it back, all the stuff inside has gone just as rotten as if it had been left exposed to the air. So why bother? But old lessons aren't easily dislodged . . one keeps on keeping on.

    Ha! Flipping double birds. One doesn't do that in Las Vegas, which is to be the subject of an upcoming post.

  3. If someone's too quiet while I'm talking, I begin to suspect they may disagree with me (or are just plain bored), at which point I'll just shut up myself.

    Somebody at work was once complaining to me and another person about her ex-husband. Because I assumed she was talking more to the other person--they were close friends--I just sat there and listened. She took my silence as a sign of disapproval, when in fact I AGREED with what she was saying. She also assumed I would take the ex-husband's side as we both of the same gender, which I thought was a bit unfair.

  4. @ Kirk ~ Bingo! All of that is bingo. I'd be the first to say the misperceptions can occur on both sides of it, all of our assumptions doing to us what assumptions do to us. We paint others across the table into roles they may or may not want to play. But my main thrust in this was - and I repeated it often enough - if you're a player, that's fine, and a comforter won't out you right then and there, but you must not assume or believe anything based on your assumptions. Don't think you're out of the woods because you escaped the cafe table before your food began to curdle from having the mirror reflected back onto yourself, Ms. Player.

  5. I’m not fond of confrontation. I tend to avoid it. I’ve never been flashed but I have been propositioned by a hooker. I was very polite and said, “No, but thank you for asking,” and I actually meant it. Of course her asking might have meant that I looked like the kind of guy who goes with prostitutes but that’s not what I thought at the time. I just thought that a woman was offering to have sex with me (albeit as it may be for money) and I thought that was very nice of her.

    I had more to say earlier but my computer froze on me and I lost the whole comment so this will have to do.

  6. @ Jim Murdoch ~ As one who resents pretty much being forced to be wed to the computer, I hate it when it does me wrong. I take it very personally and crab about it forever.

    VERY good re: the hooker, Jim! That's brilliant. And it was very nice of her. Far nicer than conspiring to lift your wallet, say. Thanks so much for stopping by.