I was surprised -- actually, shocked might be a better way of
putting it -- when I
last night that I actually do have an interpersonal skill that I
seem to be good at and even comfortable with: talking with people,
one-on-one. Mostly, I'm a good listener.
It's true that I sometimes presume to offer advice, or bring my analytical
ability to bear on some problem that I usually don't know much more about
than the person talking with me. And I can often offer an outsider's (or
occasionally an alien's) perspective based on my observations of normal
humans. But mostly I listen and nod sagely. And offer hugs, or even
cuddles when they're asked for. Middle-sized bears are usually, if
nothing else, comfortable to be around.
Not surprisingly, it was my "little sister" pocketnaomi who
shattered my carefully-built self-image by making me realize that, in
spite of my social awkwardness, my inability to meet people, my inability
to notice or drop hints, to understand or control tone of voice or body
language, I still seem to be able to carry on an intelligible conversation
on subjects of interest to ordinary humans.
Not to mention geeks and musicians -- swapping songs or technical tidbits
has always been easy for me.
The ability to talk about, and understand something about, such things as
relationships, interpersonal dynamics, mental states, love, and friendship
appears to be very new indeed. It still feels deeply weird to have people
coming to me and talking about their relationships, and even weirder that
they're finding my comments valuable. That's not something I'm
used to yet, and I don't have much trust in anything I have to say on
those subjects. You shouldn't either.
I think I've been a pretty good listener for a long time. I am, as I
believe I've mentioned, shy, self-conscious, and socially inept -- that
means that I find it difficult to actually say something except
in answer to a question or in response to some remark that gives me an
opening. So I spend a lot of time listening.
The only person I can recall who's recently accused me of not listening is
Colleen, and that's because, in her personal vocabulary, "you're not
listening" really seems to mean something more like "I don't think I got
my point across; if you'd been listening you would have understood it and
agreed with me." At which point she usually bursts into tears. It may
also be because too often she doesn't have my full attention when she says
something. You do have to get my attention: bears are easily
Colleen's firm belief that I'm not listening may also have come about
because I seem to have lost the ability for a
while and she doesn't realize I have it back.
It wouldn't surprise me if it's what attracted her to me in the first
place. I've said elsewhere that, for me, relationships are mainly about
friendship, and friendship for me is mainly about talking to one another.
I've written upstream, under the title of Friendship and
love, that the River is mostly about love and friendship. So, even
more fundamentally, it must be about conversation.
Talk to me.