Lately I've been wondering if I've grown too old to care how many times a day people make note of my quietness (among other such things). Does it bother me any more?
Maybe I'm numb to it now, but it still happens as much as ever. Really, it's crazy.
Most recently, after I asked about some colleagues overseas, questioning whether they were excited about taking on a new project or not -- because, to me, they appeared irritated -- I was told that, yes, they were very excited, and that it's just a cultural thing. They're like the Japanese, I was told, very reluctant to express themselves. And then another colleague chimed in and said, "Oh, so, they're very much like Zeri."
Or, when I decline to join colleagues for lunch outings (which -- to be fair -- I do try to join in on every so often), someone will joke about how much I dislike them or about how mysterious I am. My colleagues like to propose ridiculous theories regarding my taciturnity, such as me being in the witness protection program, or that I'm an undercover agent, or worse things.
Most of the time now, I embrace these images. Let them enjoy my introversion. I do.
But, now and then, I hear people talk about other so-called-introverts, and I'm reminded about why I should care. I still hear people say things like, "He started out as an introvert, but then he overcame his shyness whenever he chose to." And then I cringe inside, because there's nothing to overcome. There's nothing to improve. And I want to rant... but I won't.
Such things remind me that I'm not too old to care. As much as I embrace my introversion, and as much enjoyment as I (and others) get out of it, there are still too many people who see it as something to be fixed.
Being at a startup, I get a small-but-not-insignificant chance to influence how things develop, and a chance like that cropped up recently at my office in Seattle.
"What should we name our conference rooms?" my boss asked everyone.
There are two conference rooms in our office, and there are -- so far -- only eight of us on the team. I chimed in a couple of times, but none of my suggestions stuck, despite how excellent they were.
Instead, the team settled on the names of astronomical deities, or some such nonsense. The chosen names were meant to convey the size differences between the corresponding conference rooms, one tiny and the other less so.
Not very imaginative. That was a few weeks ago.
This week, for some reason, has been heavy on meetings for me, and while we were about to convene in one of these conference rooms, I said, "We should have named the rooms 'Ugh and Oy'".
My boss said, "No, we need to be more positive."
Clearly he doesn't feel the same as I do about meetings.
"I'm not antisocial," I'll say. "I'm just unsocial."
There's a big difference, although many people don't see it. I tend to avoid too much social activity (by my standards), but I have nothing against being social now and then; in fact, I enjoy the company of others.
Explaining such nuances doesn't always help. It could be due, at least in part, to my failure to explain things simply. But there are also other barriers.
Several acquaintances, in my opinion, don't believe in introversion. Some of them even claim to be introverts, but when they tell me that they were able to practice over the years and change, I realize we're talking about different traits. These acquaintances are the kinds of people who think everyone should be treated the same, and everyone should want the same things, and they take offense at anyone who spurns those ideals. Children shouldn't be treated with special consideration, they say, because you'll end up raising a bunch of babies. And adults should, of course, be given even less leeway.
I can see their point; in fact, I agree to some extent. And that's why I do my best to avoid too much social activity. It's up to me to look after my own well-being. Not the system I'm part of. Not my acquaintances or friends or family. I don't need others to treat me differently or to understand me. As long as I make sure to treat myself in the way that I need, then I'll be okay.
It's always worthwhile to try coming to an understanding with others, but that's a huge task, and not always a pleasant one. Creating an environment that I can thrive in is much more important. As they say: start with yourself.
A few months ago, I left my relatively new job and accepted an offer at a startup. Returning to another startup after so many years seems a bit crazy, but at least I've joined a small team of guys whom I've worked with for nearly twenty years. Plus, I tell myself, these kinds of opportunities don't come around forever.
Then again, perhaps the real appeal comes from having the following:
I recently learned that I'm losing hearing in one of my ears. This has presented me with a new challenge and a new perspective. Now I'm not sure which is worse: hearing too much, or hearing too little.
I've always been a bit overwhelmed by my senses. I've felt like I was seeing a little too much, catching scents that I didn't want to catch, and hearing more than I could absorb at once. With every other sense competing for my attention, I couldn't understand how others managed to be so on-the-ball. My brain might eventually catch up, but by the time it did, it would often be too late.
Making sense of what people were saying to me has frequently been an issue. I heard them well enough, but the surrounding noise would interfere; and then, of course, even when I could hear a person's words correctly, there was the problem of interpreting their meaning. To this day, how everyone else succeeds at this so easily still baffles me.
Now I need to learn all over again how to respond when my hearing fails; this time, it's from hearing too little. Maybe I can respond the same way that I did when I heard too much. I don't yet know.
Sitting around a conference table, I typed away at my laptop while others chatted. I tuned in when they began discussing one of my projects, and when I was asked whether their plans for it were acceptable, I gave the thumbs up.
The product manager sitting nearby chuckled and said, "I've never seen Zeri enthusiastic."
"Oh," someone at the far end of the table piped in, someone I barely know, "the day Zeri is enthusiastic about anything will be the day that I eat my shoe." (Okay, to be honest, he may have said something else, but it was -- I promise -- equally dramatic.)
Meanwhile, I did some more work on my laptop and generally ignored the rest of the chat until, about twenty minutes later, I was told that -- given that the discussion about my project was finished -- I could leave if I wanted.
My eyebrows went up, and I shot out of my chair almost as quickly. Closing my laptop and smiling, I said, "I can leave? Now I'm enthusiastic!"
The product manager laughed loudly and said, "I love it! That's more snarkiness than I've ever seen out of him." I heard another manager say, "Wow, you do seem enthusiastic."
It wasn't faked. I've never been a fan of meetings.
It's the end of a work day and I'm crammed into a small conference room with other colleagues. The room is dubbed the "War Room", and the extreme proximity is intended to make us more productive. For me, it's mainly noisy, and I can't help being affected by the rising tension in the room.
Though I try to drown it all out, I happen to hear a remark from a coworker at the other end of the room. Some remarks stand out to me. My ears are attuned to them, unfortunately.
"I've never seen you interact with anyone," he's saying to someone else. "You're almost like Zeri, over there," he says, pointing at me, "but minus one or two points."
In a way, I suppose that I like being known for my taciturn nature; I mean, it gives me an excuse to avoid interactions (not to mention a reason to write a blog entry). But sometimes I wish I could just do my work without being measured for my social activity. I'm not sure how the chaotic environment I'm in is supposed to help me work, but it's clearly not making me communicate more. Perhaps the "War Room" will change me, but I doubt I'll become more productive.
I was hard at work and trying to ignore the chaos surrounding me, but at some point my mind registered that someone had been speaking to me moments earlier. One of the project managers was looking at me, I sensed. And then, a few moments after I registered it, my brain somehow replayed his comment, something that needed acknowledging. I turned to him and said: "I was nodding, but only in my head."
Minutes or hours passed. Then the director was sitting next to me and telling others a story that, again, I was trying to ignore. Once more, however, I inadvertently picked up the gist of it. Something about an employee being let go, and how he -- the expressive person that he is -- immediately did a jig. Then, after admitting it was an inappropriate time to do a jig, he said he should probably strive to be more like Zeri and that he should express his thoughts on the inside.
I think I turned to him and smiled, but I can't be sure. In reality, my mouth may or may not have moved.
There is a group of six or seven people gathered just a little way behind me who have aroused my curiosity a little. I naturally assumed at first that they were a group of friends out together for the evening. But as I listened to their exchanges, it became apparent they were strangers who had just happened upon one another here on this spot behind me. Evidently, they had all paused a moment for the lights coming on, and then proceeded to fall into conversation with one another. As I watch them now, they are laughing together merrily. It is curious how people can build such warmth among themselves so swiftly. It is possible these particular persons are simply united by the anticipation of the evening ahead. But, then, I rather fancy it has more to do with this skill of bantering. Listening to them now, I can hear them exchanging one bantering remark after another. It is, I would suppose, the way many people like to proceed. In fact, it is possible my bench companion of a while ago expected me to banter with him -- in which case, I suppose I was something of a sorry disappointment. Perhaps it is indeed time I began to look at this whole matter of bantering more enthusiastically. After all, when one thinks about it, it is not a foolish thing to indulge in -- particularly if it is the case that in bantering lies the key to human warmth.
Excerpt from The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro
I like this quote mainly because I had similar thoughts and questions frequently while growing up. I wondered about the skill of talking and about whether people practiced at it, and I wondered whether people felt more or less close because of it all, etc.
But as I was looking up the wording for this quote online (I'd listened to the audio format), I found it referenced in a book called "Bullshit and Philosophy", which was amusing. Bullshitting is a good thing, it asserts, and I don't disagree. As it goes on to say:
"Just imagine that every conversation were to be informed with a strong concern for the truth. Conversations would be terribly fatiguing."
Then again, conversations are often fatiguing for me. Even the amusing ones.
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