When we converse with others, we usually feel for some reason as if there is a mythical stopwatch the other person or persons hold over us, so we must respond immediately to what they say. This is a fallacy. Really, a glaring fallacy I am not sure from whom or whence it comes, but it’s apparently a cross-cultural phenomenon. And, oh, how prevalent it is online. I watched a comment debate (if you can call it a debate) unfold a couple of weeks ago on a thread wherein a chap demanded a reply from a lady within a minute of her comment. “Typical liberal, doesn’t have anything to say to that I guess. Still waiting.” Hmm. How many times have we witnessed or been subjected to something like that, so that we feel that mythical stopwatch ticking away in our heads? So we say something unformed, a thought not completely thought through, and then see the flaw in it. Our discussion partner picks it apart. “That’s not exactly what I meant!” we want to say; our emotions spiral. We end up running the scenario over and over in our minds, sometimes for days. We will pick up the conversation perhaps months or years later and think “If only I had said it differently…” Sometimes this leads to what I call conflict archaeology and we will bring up old conversations, or they will be brought up by others, in arguments, and “you said, that one time…” become fodder for resentments. All because the mythical stopwatch kept you from really saying what you felt.
There is no stopwatch. Every person is fully entitled to take as long as they wish to formulate a response. We aren’t on the debate team in real life. A discussion between real people, in real time, in real life, is only as good and fulfilling as the thoughts and sentiments it evokes and provides between those engaged in it. Half-formulated thoughts rushed off half-cocked don’t really bring much to the table unless you’re engaged in the sort of discussion that is meandering around in one of those “what if” types of talks that extrapolates and explores and everyone feeds off of each other’s brainstorms. Even then taking the time to stop and think is a huge part of the enterprise. So let me say again: everyone is entitled to stop and think before responding in a discussion.
People like to rush you in talks. “Well?” they say. “What do you think about that?” The pressure to plow ahead and say something is a social conditioning, and it often leads to a derailing in the discussion. Telling the other person that you don’t know is completely acceptable. Admitting you haven’t thought things through enough to formulate an answer to that question or scenario is just fine. Saying you will have to think about it is dandy. Asking for more input is fantastic. As rational and intelligent beings, social beings, we depend on each other for a healthy functioning society. Rushing into things gets us into trouble. We *have* to communicate with each other to form relationships, get things done, make things better, grow as a society and as individuals. It is our nature. But beating each other up with our words, berating each other with sentiment, is not communicating. Not allowing each other time to digest what thoughts we provide each other with is a grave disservice to our fellows.
Each day, all day long, we are bombarded with information and input. So much so that we tend to glaze over; we skim through our newsfeeds, our social media feeds, we listen with half an ear to our kids and our partners and our friends. We struggle to listen to our coworkers. We search for things to interest us and then lose that interest. So when we attempt conversation, we rush it. That is simply not alright. We don’t allow the merit and meaning to sink in and truly affect us, so that we can absorb what the other person or persons mean to say to us. Perhaps what they mean to say has enough merit to alter our circumstances or change our perspective. I mean to talk about perspective a lot, because perspective is extremely important to healing and growth. If we maintain the same perspective all the time, we become stagnant and can never hope to heal the things inside us that hurt or cause us us hurt. It takes patience to listen to others, and patience to allow ourselves the time to formulate the thoughts to respond. To still our voices enough to not say what immediately comes to mind so we know truly what we want to say.
“Does that make sense?” I find myself asking people when I talk to them sometimes. Because I want to know if my thoughts are comprehensible. It does no good to take the time to formulate thoughts and work to get them across if the other person does not understand. Sometimes they won’t understand. And that’s ok, because not everyone will, and it’s not our responsibility to cram all of our understanding into one conversation. Because even though there is no stopwatch, there is also no measuring stick of depth of understanding. This is a boundary lesson, and one hard to learn: sometimes others will not comprehend our feelings, intentions, ideas, or points of view no matter the framework we give them. Beating a dead horse is still beating a dead horse no matter how long you take to formulate a stick with which to beat it. And sometimes, to our chagrin or sadness, we realise that conversation with a certain someone will be woeful no matter what and engagement will be futile. Experience is a wise teacher, if we put her lessons to good use.