Did you read my November 25 post “I’m sorry, but it’s over?” I talked about my bad habit of softening statements rather than speaking directly and confidently but politely. Did you also read my November 22 post “Listening?” Therein, I talked about a combination of arrogance, lack of trust, and obsessive-compulsive disorder that interferes with my listening skills.
Are the two writings contradictory? If I was so deferential to people in daily speech, how could I also be not at all deferential to people when it comes to listening to them? I think the two situations are as different as apples and oranges. But, let’s analyze the question to be sure. Is there perhaps a common thread that weaves the two problems together?
Perhaps the underlying thread is false pride, or an obsession with image. This makes sense regarding poor listening skills. I didn’t want to listen to others because being right all the time was part of my image, my self-esteem, and pride. It also makes sense regarding deferential phrases in speech. Softening statements with phrases like “I’m sorry,” “maybe later,” or “yeah, maybe” is an attempt to protect my image.
Think of someone saying, “No, I’ll get the check” after a restaurant meal, while they are simultaneously thinking, “Oh shit, this is going to be expensive, and I don’t like paying.” This happens a lot among certain ethnic groups, including the group with which my parents identified. They took this to sick extremes, eventually avoiding most social engagements because they could neither afford to pay for everyone nor would swallow their pride enough to split the bill with others.
This is the same kind of foolish pride that brought me to say “I’m sorry, but it’s over,” instead of “I’m ending this meaningless relationship.” It is also the same foolish pride that led me to insist I knew there was no office supply store instead of listening to others.
It is clear I should stop speaking deferentially and start listening. Why is it so difficult? Laziness and habit. It takes affirmative mental energy to turn my bad habits into good habits, to stop and remind myself to really listen, and to think very carefully before saying some mindless deferential thing.