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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Things Best Left Unsaid, Part 3: It's Oh So Quiet... Shhh!

Countless times in my life, people have remarked upon how quiet I am. And I love it when they do that, seriously.

No actually, I was pulling your leg before. It's really quite annoying when people feel the need to vocalize about how non-vocal you are being. But the interesting thing is people actually think they are being clever when they tell you how quiet you are: "We just can't get you to shut up, can we?", or "Gee, maybe if you'd stop talking so much, we could get a word in edgewise!", or "I'm getting sick of hearing your voice so much, why don't you give others a chance!" Thanks, guys, haven't heard those ones before. That's really clever of you, no really. Congratulations on filling the silence with your inane babble.

The worst part about statements like these, though, is that there's really nothing I can say in response. I mean, what would you say? I haven't been able to think of anything good, so most of the time I just give one of those pity smiles that looks obviously unamused. It would make my life a whole lot easier if people would just get over the discomfort they feel when other people aren't talking. If you want to get me to talk, then talk to me. Ask me a question. Remark about a current event. Tell me about your day. But for god's sake, please don't tell me that I'm not talking. I know that already, and your comment isn't helpful. It only shifts the discomfort from you to me, and I don't appreciate that. Nothing is less effective in getting a quiet person to talk than telling them they are quiet. So knock it off, already!

If you want to list out the adjectives that describe me, quiet would definitely be on the list. But I don't understand why that is such a remarkable thing. I happen to not like talking just for the sake of filling the silence. I'm not uncomfortable with silence; on the contrary, I like it because it allows me to use my brain instead of my mouth, and that's when I get all the brilliant ideas for these blogs.

I have three examples in which people would benefit if they only learned the value of silence, and that you don't have to flap your gums constantly. So we'll end this little nasty gram with those examples:

1) Exercise Gabfest
I've been going to the gym to ride the bikes twice a week for almost a month now (January update on HealthQuest 2008), and it's alarming how often people on the neighboring machines will actually be talking to each other. Let me help you out with a little advice: If you have enough breath to hold a steady conversation with someone while using an exercise machine, then you might as well stop all pretenses and go home, because you are not getting an effective workout. I'm all for bringing friends with you to the gym -- it's one of the best motivators to keep you going. But if you can't shut your mouth for 30 minutes, then you are wasting your time and it will take you much longer to get results than if you push yourself on that machine. And no texting, either!

2) Standing Outside My Bedroom Window in the Middle of the Night
My apartment is very unfortunately situated just above the walkway that leads from the front of the building into the inner courtyard. My neighbors think it is very convenient to stand on the top of the steps just below my window at all times of the day -- and apparently at all temperatures! -- and talk loudly on their cellphones or with their friends. I think the cellphone talkers go out there because they think they will get a little privacy away from their roommates, but ironically and much to our utter dismay, we can hear every damn word they say, and most of the time, we would really rather sleep than listen in on their gossip. I think everyone else goes out there to smoke, and apparently you can't smoke without bringing a friend out to talk to. I can't really fault people for doing this in the daytime, but between the hours of 10:PM and 10:AM, I would much rather not have to listen to people talk outside my bedroom. How about a little silence in the nighttime?

3) Filling My Empty Inbox
My office manager strikes me as one of those people who is particularly bothered by silence, which explains why she can't walk down the hall without whistling, babbling, or attempting to sing. Or maybe she just always wants people to know she's coming. But in any case, she has taken up the annoying habit of remarking about how bad it is that my inbox is empty when she comes to put stuff in it. "You empty out your inbox much too fast; you need to pace yourself!" or "Uh oh, your inbox is empty, that always worries me!" First of all, this is another one of those annoying statements for which there is no logical reply, so I usually just say nothing. Secondly, just because there is nothing in my inbox doesn't mean there is nothing on my desk that I am working on. Thirdly, and most importantly, let's imagine that my empty inbox really does signify that I have nothing to do: that just shows you what an efficient worker I am, so how about you either shut your mouth when you're talking to me, or if you must speak, tell me that I'm doing a good job! There is far too much emphasis on criticism and not enough on praise in our society.


I'd like to now ask for a moment of silence, which you may use to visit the previous installments of this series:


Things Best Left Unsaid Part 1: The African Tree Slug

Things Best Left Unsaid Part 2: Smile Pretty For Me Now



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11 comments:

Sovknight said...

I don't know you to be the quiet type. I suppose I haven't really thought about it, but I think it depends on the situation. Being friends, we're obviously in a social setting when we're together, and that implies talking or sharing thoughts. It would be different in, say, a work environment.

It's like all those people that keep telling me to "smile more". Huh? I smile when it's necessary to do so, like when I'm happy or delighted or I just witnessed a fat guy falling down. These kinds of things amuse me, so I am prone to smile. Being at work slaving away to make someone else rich and successful is NOT a reason to smile in my opinion. So I choose not to do so.

Same for talking. You should talk when it's time to talk, like if someone asks a question or you have an opinion or relevant information to share. Otherwise, what's the point?

I think you're right-on.

Katie Peterson said...

I have a fun idea. As you mentioned, when people comment on how quiet you are, they are pushing their discomfort onto you. I say, push back! I think you should take that opportunity to dribble, fall asleep or yell out something crazy, like, "Those damn fascist won't leave well enough alone!" I'm sure there are things that could make a person more uncomfortable than silence. That way, they will learn not to force their not-so-witty banter on you.

Sra said...

We are on the same page about the smiling issue. For more on that, check out Part 1 of Things Best Left Unsaid.

No, SovKnight, you don't know me to be quiet, because you and I are good friends, and so I am interested in having meaningful conversations with you. For most other people - strangers, acquaintances, coworkers, casual friends - I'm generally more reticent because I don't see the point in getting too personal with people I don't care very much about. Not that I don't value some of those relationships for what they are, but I don't try to make them anything more than that.

And I don't generally like small talk, because I see it as stuff that you say to people you have nothing else to say to because you don't know each other well enough to have a real conversation. That's not to say I won't engage in small talk, but I won't initiate it. So a lot of the time I just sit there and listen.

Deciding whether to smile or talk is completely personal, and it is really impolite for people to criticize you for not smiling or talking. Do we criticize others for smiling or talking too much? "You are soooo loquacious, oh my god!" or "Are you by chance related to the Cheshire Cat?" No, of course we don't say those things, because doing so is rude. (That's not to say we don't think them. I know I have, and of course, in this blog I criticize people who talk too much. But I would never tell someone to their face that they need to stop talking so much.)

Sra said...

Mmm, I like your strategy, Katie. I will think about some nice ways to push the discomfort back onto people who remark on my silence. This strategy could be used for all kinds of other social offenses too!

I will employ some nice quiet time to contemplate the possibilities. Thanks!

Nix said...

I like Katie's idea. Just blurt out something completely random.

Office manger: "Sra, why so quiet today. Something wrong?"

Sra: "PURPLE CHEESECAKE MAKES MY TEETH ITCH!!!"

OM: **Quietly backs away**

Sra said...

Brilliant. But what to do if they follow up with you?

Miranda said...

This is an older post but I love it because I can relate so well. My most hated time to be met with irritating bla bla is in the morning when I arrive at work. I have 1) not had enough caffeine yet 2) not even been able to take off my coat and hat yet, and 3) really please don't torture me with 'Good morning' chit chat because it is before 9am people. But seriously, god loves the people more who are chipper at 8:26. I am not the saintly type however. I also hate it when I heat up my lunch at work and people feel the need to crowd aroung and stare at my food saying things like 'mmm...is that tempeh?'. Yes, get over it I'm a vegetarian ok. You're making me feel dirty somehow people standing so close to my tofu. Please let me chomp in peace! Ok, I'm done ranting.

Sra said...

Yeah, the mornings are the worst! For me, I can't really function as a normal human until after 10:AM. Yeah, I hate it when people want to talk to you about your food. Like sometimes I make pasta or grilled cheese at work, and people come in and say, oh you're cooking! I'm impressed! And I'm like, you're easily impressed then. I don't know, I think people sometimes feel like they need to say something, and so they talk about what you're doing. But it's annoying.

Sra said...

Yeah, the mornings are the worst! For me, I can't really function as a normal human until after 10:AM. Yeah, I hate it when people want to talk to you about your food. Like sometimes I make pasta or grilled cheese at work, and people come in and say, oh you're cooking! I'm impressed! And I'm like, you're easily impressed then. I don't know, I think people sometimes feel like they need to say something, and so they talk about what you're doing. But it's annoying.

Miranda said...

This is an older post but I love it because I can relate so well. My most hated time to be met with irritating bla bla is in the morning when I arrive at work. I have 1) not had enough caffeine yet 2) not even been able to take off my coat and hat yet, and 3) really please don't torture me with 'Good morning' chit chat because it is before 9am people. But seriously, god loves the people more who are chipper at 8:26. I am not the saintly type however. I also hate it when I heat up my lunch at work and people feel the need to crowd aroung and stare at my food saying things like 'mmm...is that tempeh?'. Yes, get over it I'm a vegetarian ok. You're making me feel dirty somehow people standing so close to my tofu. Please let me chomp in peace! Ok, I'm done ranting.

Sra said...

We are on the same page about the smiling issue. For more on that, check out Part 1 of Things Best Left Unsaid.

No, SovKnight, you don't know me to be quiet, because you and I are good friends, and so I am interested in having meaningful conversations with you. For most other people - strangers, acquaintances, coworkers, casual friends - I'm generally more reticent because I don't see the point in getting too personal with people I don't care very much about. Not that I don't value some of those relationships for what they are, but I don't try to make them anything more than that.

And I don't generally like small talk, because I see it as stuff that you say to people you have nothing else to say to because you don't know each other well enough to have a real conversation. That's not to say I won't engage in small talk, but I won't initiate it. So a lot of the time I just sit there and listen.

Deciding whether to smile or talk is completely personal, and it is really impolite for people to criticize you for not smiling or talking. Do we criticize others for smiling or talking too much? "You are soooo loquacious, oh my god!" or "Are you by chance related to the Cheshire Cat?" No, of course we don't say those things, because doing so is rude. (That's not to say we don't think them. I know I have, and of course, in this blog I criticize people who talk too much. But I would never tell someone to their face that they need to stop talking so much.)

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