Cartoon from the New Yorker by William Haefeli. Buy his artwork here.
I spent the past weekend at my in-laws’ in Vancouver, celebrating a special birthday. They’re wonderful people, and I really enjoy their company. But since my last visit there I’ve Let-Myself-Change a lot. I’m a much happier and healthier person, more resilient, more attentive, more appreciative, and quieter.
It’s this last quality that those who know me (or at least knew me) seem to find disconcerting. I’m delighted just to be in the company of people I love. I no longer feel the need to fill the silence with conversation, and, when I do talk, it’s more thoughtful, and (to me at least) it’s about things that matter.
I’ve noticed this repeatedly over the past year. Apparently, men listening and paying attention without talking is a suspicious activity. Men don’t observe, it seems, they stare, and a man who appears to be genuinely observing must be a starer practiced at not being too obvious about it. (The gender of the person being observed doesn’t seem to make a difference in this regard.)
And, apparently, a man listening without frequently interjecting is also behaving suspiciously. He must be bored, or patronizing, or distracted by thoughts resonating in his head. If he doesn’t talk a lot to confirm he is listening, well, then, he must not be listening. (Perhaps this is true of women as well, though I suspect that, in conversation with men at least, such behaviour is not even noticed.)
We live in an age when, at any point in time, 2/3 of all drivers and 1/3 of all pedestrians are in cellphone conversations (my own recent survey, another act of silent observation on my part). So there is no room, no time, for observation, for just listening, for paying attention. I speak, therefore I am.
In a singles joint, nothing is more awkward than silence — it is simply unacceptable behaviour. It is considered, I think, a sign of egomania, or voyeurism, or a sign of social awkwardness or social retardation. It is tolerable if you’re very attractive, or a celebrity with an entourage, but otherwise not.
In business meetings, paradoxically, those who speak rarely are often afforded exceptional attention when they do break their silence — at least if they’re men. Women in business, for the most part, aren’t often afforded attention to what they say no matter how they go about it. Even, dismayingly, by other women.
In Second Life, as in real life, it appears that it is up to the male to instigate and dominate each conversation. He is judged by the cleverness of what he says. Women, alas, are judged by their attentiveness, and the quality of their body language — conveyed through something called animation overrides (AOs), a brilliant and diabolical invention by some animation cultural anthropologist too smart for his own good. There is something eerie about this, when this software offers such opportunity to defy real world cultural norms, that so much effort is invested to reproduce them.
I think I am destined to live out much of my remaining life in silence. Both men and women expect me to talk, while I usually prefer to just enjoy the company of those I love, in silence. And these days I love most people, instinctively, without judgement. We are who we are, and we do what we must.
I don’t mind the silence (in fact I find it liberating; it ‘creates space’ for other things to happen, and for things to be noticed). But those whose company I keep seem to find my silence somewhere between unnerving and excruciating.
So, to the women I sit silently beside in the airport bar, or meet wordlessly in Second Life; to the guys in the meetings who mistake my quiet attentiveness for disdain or disengagement; and to those I love who find the silence of my company deafening, my apologies. No offense intended. I simply enjoy your company. I’m sorry you mistake my smilefor something it is not.
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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