02 April 2013

Was It Good for You?

The news media watch economic indicators closely. Dow Jones. NASDAQ. S&P 500. Jobless claims. Trading futures. With no money to speak of and slim possibility of that status changing, these indicators are not hugely interesting to me. These reports mean more to people with money -- or those who aspire to having money...or those for whom money ranks high on the list of Quality of Life indicators. Money moves like a moody, big-footed, many-legged shaggy beast on the planet. It's not easy or simple to track it's movements. Good thing there are some smart people dedicated to the task -- for those who care a lot about money.

The Quality of Life indicators I observe (but feel inadequate to track) most closely have to do with how us common folk interact, our decision-making (and other) thought processes and, especially, how we resolve interpersonal conflicts.

Tests results over the last 30 years suggest I am an "introvert". I wonder how early in life such an orientation is developed. (I also wonder about the flexibility of the orientation; I take the tests every few years, just to see if I'm changing.) For certain, I was a shy child with a complex, active inner life. My mind was full of questions. I fell asleep wondering what animals dreamed about.

My mother worked full-time training me away from shyness and introversion. She stressed the importance of what other people think of me. Change of underwear was critical in case some accident landed me in an emergency room where, apparently, medical personnel would judge me harshly otherwise. Good posture was the way to let other people know I had self pride. Clear enunciation at an easily audible level, with full eye contact, demonstrated intelligence and breeding.

The objective seemed to be the development of a public persona that read as an unquestionably clean, intelligent, upstanding and, ultimately, employable.

Like many adult women, I continue to hear my mother's voice in my head. There's an impressive durability to the messages. For example, despite sincere and strenuous effort for many years, I have been unable to erase the "You'll never be pretty but at least you're smart" section of the internal broadcast. The effects of this message include a fluctuating but ever-present physical self-consciousness -- alone or in the presence of others -- and a recurrent hopelessness about my possibilities in a world where beauty regularly wins over intelligence.

One message on regular rotation in this internal programming was always particularly confusing. I didn't "get it" when I first heard it and it still sits uneasily in my consciousness. "If you're the only one who sees it that way, you're probably wrong." The first question this message provoked was "Why?" or more specifically "How does that work? How does an idea become consensus?" and "Where are the lab notes, the incontrovertible documentation of the research process that resulted in proof that "truth" requires majority opinion?"

The message is an argument for conformity. It expresses disapproval of introversion. It created -- and continues occasionally to create -- identity conflicts for me, triggering that "Is it just me?" feeling in a variety of situations.

"From Where I Stand"
Photographer:  Eliz Sarobhasa
This past weekend I hosted a house guest who is also a "friend." I set the word in quotation marks because while we have maintained contact even when we lived in different cities and shared laughs and "been there" for each other in some "hard" times, the relationship is marked by a recurrent conflict that, for me at least, compromises the deep, abiding embrace that defines Friendship. Though the conflict feels complex, I have begun to wonder if it only presents as complex on the surface; it there isn't some simple, fundamental diagnosis that has, so far escaped me. I have a niggling suspicion that perhaps it's just that we don't actually like each other.

What's observable is her tendency in conversation to preface her responses with "No..." or "It's not that (whatever I just said)" or "That's not the point." On her last morning here, I confronted her about what I called a knee-jerk inclination to cancel my ideas. We've had this conversation before over the 6 or 7 years of our acquaintance. On Sunday, as in previous episodes, we came to no conclusion. She says she only uses the cancelling language when she perceives my statement or question as "regressive" or "judgmental" or inaccurate or calling into question something that "everybody" already agrees on.

I asked if a prefacing statement like "That's not the way I see it" would serve the same purpose. I suggested that such a preface would open a space for the presentation of her own ideas without striking  mine. I don't see the necessity to cancel ideas that differ from mine. Can't we just add our own to the mix, let things that don't match sit side by side?

As in previous attempts to talk about this, she was somewhat irritated by my concern. This is not uncommon. Whenever I turn to an analysis of how we talk to each other, I'm regularly accused of being too picky or unnecessarily analytic. "You know what I meant!" they reply with exasperation.

Surely I'm not the only person experiencing this. Surely she's not the only person with this linguistic proclivity.

I say "surely" with no supporting statistics. No one is measuring or tracking this stuff. I'm convinced it affects Quality of Life. But no one is tracking this stuff...