Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Talk To Me - 8 - Taciturn

When I was a child there was a "crime" talked about, called "dumb insolence". It came from the military but was popular among parents and schoolteachers as a way of insisting that a child speak up when accused of something. We are so used to the idea of having the right to remain silent when arrested that we forget that this right does not exist everywhere. In many situations saying nothing will get you into a lot of trouble.

Saying nothing, or at least very little, can be a good strategy. Great care is needed in holding back though. Just as you can potentially say too much (especially if it's the wrong thing), you can also say too little, it's a very fine balance.

But it's an art we all have to practice. Less can often be more in situations where intense feelings are being expressed, and choosing your words carefully can avoid exacerbating a disagreement.

Just in time for me to write this blog, a friend came round yesterday evening, to escape his wife. She is prone to a bad temper and vicious tongue, and over the years we have heard many stories of her haranguing him. He developed long ago an attitude of not caring, and a way of tuning it all out and making himself very busy. It wouldn't be my idea of a marriage or a home environment, I like harmony, but every family is different, and it's none of my business. I just listen sympathetically and wonder why the hell he hasn't left her.

And, over the years, his ability to ignore her has become second nature, so that it washes right over him, and he hardly notices it anymore.

His daughter, on the other hand, having left home for a while but returned to the nest, is acutely aware of it, and speaks out.  "Why do you have to be so NASTY?" she asks her mother. Our friends smiles to himself and leaves them to it.

I find the situation tragic, but there it is. He has a strategy to cope with her bitching, he ignores it. The less he says, the easier his life is. That's how he copes. Could I do it? I doubt it. But I suppose you do what you have to do. It becomes a survival tactic.

There are many reasons for saying very little:


I am a sociable person, and an open person. There's not much about me that I don't share with the whole world, when the occasion arises. However, in a curious twist of expectation, because I don't express my feelings much, I have been accused of being "guarded". Which is quite wrong. I'm just not very complex! What you see is what you get. It actually took a long time for the light bulb to go on, for me to realise that those who find me inscrutable are projecting their own complexitites. Took me a long time to figure that out. Let's digress a minute.

People delight but confuse me. I became a "people watcher" when I realised I was getting it all terribly wrong. That some people were shy, rather than rude, and that quite often a domineering person is very insecure. This is all stuff you are supposed to learn when growing up, but I was surrounded by essentially honest and decent people, nobody played mind games on me (or if they tried, I was blissfully unaware of it) and I will tell you right here and now that I matured socially rather later than average.

I am so "simple" and straightforward, in fact, that for a long time I failed to be naturally suspicious of those who don't speak their minds, and it's a miracle I was never tricked, because I tend to take people as I find them. Some sort of Spidey sense offers a back-up, I guess, because I was never actually gullible. It's an odd combination of innocence and streetsmart, and I can't explain it, but there it is. Intellect intervenes, I guess.

But it took me a long time to learn not to be too damn honest. (Note: I'm not sure I've altogether ever got past this). When I look back over my life I can pinpoint quite a few times that saying nothing, or at least less, or by lying, frankly, I could have kept myself out of trouble. But it never occurred to me at the time.

OK, so back to now, here I am in middle-age, considerably the wiser, and still having to make a concerted effort much of the time in keeping my mouth shut. Speaking my mind is my natural reaction.

I have a "busy" mind; I analyze. Again, some of this was a process I had to teach myself, because the realities of life require it. I would really be quite content to work in the garden and think "Om" but I am also very grounded and practical, so I figure things out, because somebody has to. They say people are divided between dreamers, planners, and doers, but I find that in fact, to get on in life you need to be all three.

I learned, from mistakes, that sometimes you just HAVE TO SHUT UP. That words, once said, can never be withdrawn, and sometimes people have extraordinary long memories. I would like to now stop and pray.

Oh yes. I hereby prostrate myself at the feet of any and all deities reading this blog, from all religious traditions - because I'm not picky - and offer thanks, and you shall have betel nuts Ganesh dear fellow, and I'll light candles, and bring flowers to the altar, and burn incense, and dance and anything you like........I am HUMBLY AND DEEPLY GRATEFUL that other people don't have a memory like mine.

Oh yes. I bow my head.

The only thing that has kept me from being in far deeper doo-doo than I ever managed to get myself in, the only way I avoided total humiliation, the only way I'm not despised by everyone who ever met me, is because they forget things I've said.

It doesn't work the other way around, I'm afraid, and THIS is probably what has saved my arse too.

I remember everything important anyone ever said to me. Important to me, that is. In every conversation since I could speak. Not in detail of course (although occasionally word for word, actually) but every salient point, every deep feeling expressed, every strong opinion offered. I forget things YOU think are important, like whether you take sugar in your coffee, and I'll probably forget to offer you coffee.

But if, in 1984, you told me that you didn't trust your sister, I have remembered it. If in 1977 you said you believed in fairies, I remembered it. If in 1966 (yes Graham) you admitted to stealing 2 shillings from your mother's purse, I have remembered it.

It's not intentional, it's just a sort of information glue-trap. I'll probably pay for it later and go totally gaga in later life.

Anyway, the point is, as a result of this, I hear people contradict themselves.

So........some years ago, having:

1. Been born with a very simple, uncomplicated personality.
2. Been born with a glue-trap memory.
3. Been born with a quick, analytical mind.
4. Been born with an inability to keep my effing mouth shut.

I called somebody out on a contradiction. "But you once said................"

And I got such a telling off. A friendship ended that day. I was told, and rightly so, that people are entitled to change their stance on things, and that people often say things they don't mean.

But what I actually heard, and for the first time possibly, was what wasn't said.

I heard "I feel ashamed of what I said, wish I hadn't said it, and hoped nobody would remember".

So there you have two examples of when not speaking would have been far better all rolled up into one anecdote, and how Melanie learned to "read between the lines".

Will I ever learn to keep my thoughts to myself? Probably not. In fact the way I have written this article, from a very personal perspective, is probably a mistake. AND I assume you'll remember it, although you probably won't, but I will.

There has been formal research done that shows it is much, much easier to remember the truth than it is to remember a lie. This is cited as yet another reason why lying is a bad idea.

So now I'd like to examine the idea that withholding the truth is the same as lying.

I've blogged before about tact, and I can't find it, so I'm going to repeat myself here, but you won't remember what I wrote before......

(EDIT: Found it!)


Tact is avoiding saying something that you know will cause offence. The problem, right there, is in knowing what will cause offence. Not the same as not knowing what makes you an idiot, it would not be tactless to tell me I spell offence wrong, it would show your ignorance, q.v. British spelling. Just to nip that in the bud. But that's the problem in a nutshell. What sometimes looks like tactlessness is just ignorance.

Sometimes people say things they shouldn't deliberately. For sure. But I believe much of the time, there's not really any process of decision involved, they just blurt it out. We can then choose to forgive this, heat of the moment and all that.

I am not so sure about that. If I can be tactful, then anyone can. It may not be easy to hold back, it may be very tempting to speak your mind, and believe me I know. But there are times when it really is better to bite your tongue.

And sometimes it isn't.

Back to balance then. How the bleep do we discern? It's so complicated.

I'll wind this up tomorrow, but I leave you with an example of how saying hardly anything spoke volumes.


  1. Replies
    1. Sorry about that. I just added a video too:)

  2. I have a neighbor that seems to think honesty is tactless. I try not to speak with her now.

  3. There is a time to speak, and a time to say nothing. And as you quite rightly point out, a time to say a very few well-chosen words which might have the effect of a verbal hand-grenade.