Lately, I have been a quiet observer at work. I have stopped talking and started paying attention. Listening intently, taking it all in, and not judging. Just marinating in the interactions of others, for I myself have refused to talk for the sake of talking. If I could pull off the whole Maya Angelou silent for years after a life altering experience thing (by no means am I making lite of her plight), I totally would; I would not allow a word to come from my mouth. And like Maya had Bailey, I would make just a single confidant privy to my thoughts via minimal verbiage.
So, you may be thinking, why go silent? Why not be cordial and speak when spoken to? The answer is simple my friends – because I am surrounded by an archetype of characters that I label as “crazies”. The crazies don’t listen, they hear only what they say or think, and ignore you. Completely self-absorbed, utterly uncaring, and fixated on their own problems, they ask “how are you!?”, with the intention of receiving little more than surface level answers.
They lack empathy, and this contributes to theirdistorted world view and closed minded perspective. I have been honest, at times, to a fault. Being careful not to divulge too much for fear of judgement. Any answer other than “I’m fine” is too much for their brains to compute.
I understand formalities and propriety; they are the crux of the American brief encounter exchange. I just don’t see the point in asking a person “how are you doing today?”, only to get an answer that is not superficial and shallow. Talking for the sake of talking is filling a space that needs to be left unbothered by that frequency of soundwave. Nobody is okay all the time. There have to be uncomfortable moments; those times are the impetus for change and growth. I am not done growing, and I think we all need to change a little from time to time, so why in the hell would I always respond with the dry and completely false answer “I am fine. How bout you?”
Have you ever asked Siri something and she doesn’t really get what you mean? She goes to the web for an answer that has nothing to do with what you asked, or she says “I’m sorry. I didn’t get that”. All the while her voice is pleasant, there are minimal inflections and her cadence is robotic. I am not shaming Apple, I am just saying she is a robot, and she can give robotic responses. The algorithms and programing that went into her existence undoubtedly took time. She was made to fill a void in the lives of people that need some assistance. She can even carry on a conversation and give you responses that have connotations of sarcasm. The people I spend a minimum of 40 hours a week with are a little like her, they are not hearing what another is really saying, so they give an answer that has no meaning. The repetition of exchanging words is done thoughtlessly, and often, the exchange may be better off not existing at all.
My favorite sort of interactions are the ones in which I talk and get a nonsensical response. Sometimes that response comes in the form of unrequited advice, the likes of which prove to me that they do not really know who I am. I would love an “I’m sorry. I didn’t get that” answer from them when they are unsure of what to say. Instead, they come off as phonies that have no intention of really developing anything beyond a weird encounter that we both have to live with – or at least that I have to live with because of how deeply unaffected they are by anything I have to say.
Here’s a secret, if you are in a conversation and you find you have nothing to say because you weren’t listening, or you cannot relate, then express that. What is the harm in saying, “I can’t identify”. Drop the façade and be who you are. If people don’t like it, then they don’t have to talk to you. Stop forcing these strange and strained conversations. Stop giving advice if you were not asked for it. Trust me, you will not implode. In fact, it may make life a little easier. Imagine talking to someone and learning something! Imagine talking to someone and not trying to compete! Imagine talking to someone and them listening! What a wonderful world.
My earnest attempt at really seeing the people I interact with for who they are has led me to this conclusion: my fellow educators (meaning the ones in my building with whom I work) tend to be narcissist.
No shots have been fired teachers, calm down. If this is not you, then it’s not. But to the ones who are in the school in which I am gainfully employed at the present moment, you know who you are – actually, you shouldn’t because the internet is a big place and I’m keeping this all as low key as possible.
By definition and general criteria pointed out in the DSM, a narcissist is a person who is self-absorbed (thinking about and talking about themselves ad nauseum), unempathetic, and entitled. There is more to the criteria to diagnose a person with the personality disorder, but the three identifiers that I give you paint a mental image of how a narcissist may think, act, and behave. I am by no means a psychiatrist or psychologist or any of the psych-blah-blah professional, and I am not diagnosing anyone. I am just calling it like I see it. No judgement, just fact.
I will give you one quick story to show you what I’m talking about. Keep in mind that this type of encounter happens EVERY SINGLE DAY I AM AT WORK. The content can be different, but the template for who says what to whom is the same. Be mindful of who does the talking.
I was sitting in the office, minding my business. There were three other people around and we gave each other a head nod when we entered the room one by one – you know, just the standard, I see you and you exist acknowledgement that humans are prone to engage in.
In walks a fourth person. He sits at the table we are all gathered around and just starts talking. “Hey you, what’s up?” I look at the other people and realize he is talking to me. It could be that I was the only one who cared enough to look up and that’s the reason I was on the hook, but again, why in the hell am I the only one that looks up? Why don’t the others care enough to listen to what this guy is saying or asking? Oh, wait, I know why. They are too self-absorbed and completely uncaring about one’s feelings and what he has to say.
To add insult to injury, one of the girls in the room gets on her cell phone as if to tell this guy I am not really wanting your conversation right now. The subliminal says it all. I say “Nothing much. Just…” and he cuts me off with a swift transition that I was perplexed by. Ding! That’s hit one. Why did he need to say what’s up? Why not just “Hey, let me tell you what happened” or something along those lines. Fuck the preamble, just get down to it. Instead he sets me up to think he is asking about my personal state. It is always the quickest bait and switch move. I am too forgiving to decide to avoid a person – I’ve done enough of that to last me lifetimes over. The one thing that I have noticed is the less I shut people out, the more they cut me. It’s not like I’m flogging myself or anything by allowing them to decide how they want to treat me. The way I see it, I have no reason to completely cut a person out of my life because we had a disagreement. Let’s just get on with it and move the conversation forward. But, we are entitled to do as we please – right? I choose to keep responding and listening. I just subtracted some talking.
That was a tangent, now back to your regularly scheduled program…He proceeds to ask me the weirdest question ever. “How have your run ins with CPS been?” My eyes squinted, and my head leaned forward. My chin cocked to the right and a grimace across my face, I could feel the strong wrinkling in my forehead. It may have appeared as if I was trying to make out what he just said. Make no mistake, I heard and understood him clearly. The question that he asked me struck me as being over-assuming and just a tad-bit semi-racist (if such a thing even exists).
In a room full of women, who are also mothers, he singled out the only black one and this is what he chose to ask? Really? I relaxed my face, looked around the table and everyone was still oblivious. There was no amount of work that involved, so at this point they are just not listening.
I say “I have no idea what Child Protective Services does, I have never done anything that would make them come and pay me a visit.”
I ask why, “what happened?” and he says, “Okay, first tell me if this sounds bad. Then, I wanna know…tell me what you think the worst is that could happen.”
That last sentence implies that he wanted to know what I thought when he was finished telling me what happened. He asked me, I did not ask to tell him a thing. I would have happily listened to his adventure and just said something like “wow” or “that’s wild”. He really didn’t need to hook me with a task if he just needed to talk. Maybe he was entrapping me so that I could not stop listening. Let me not overthink this…
He goes into his story; this is where things get surreal. He tells me he had to take his wife to the doctors for some in and out procedure. His two children, girls ages 1 and 3 were left in the car with him because she would be a while. They are babies and on this occasion there was nothing different about who they are or how they act. They start crying for their mom who just exited stage right. He drives around to calm them down and stop the noise. They finally fall asleep and he has to pee. So, he pulls into a handicap spot in front of a coffee chain and runs in to use the bathroom. He leaves the car running, the windows up, and the kids in the back, sleep.
There’s no shame in his game. No-holds-barred, he tells me that he is “a really super-fast pee-er”! He claimed to only have left them alone for 45 seconds.
I call BULLSHIT.
In any event, he returns to the car to see two “white women” (his words not mine) peaking in looking at the children in the idling vehicle haphazardly parked outside of the establishment he ran into. Very friendly, he walks to the car and starts small talk. The incident took another crazy turn when he learned that they worked for CPS and they were calling the police to report him. Once they reveal their trump card, he turns into a belligerent ass and yells at them. This man is a teacher, and this is what he decided was a good idea. I held all my judgements in, and then magically, the other woman in the room, the same one that was quick to pull out her cellphone in a weak attempt at avoidance, decides the conversation is something she would like to participate in and interjects.
Immediately, he stops talking to me and turns to her. His body language and position shut me out of the conversation and that ends the dialogue (at least between him and me). What individual with a decent personality does this? There have been times that I have asked a question about something pertaining to a recount of something that someone did, and another asks a question on top of mines, and generally, the people I work with will negate my question. I am by no means a victim, so, the only thing I can think is that I don’t quite fit in. No matter how I choose to interact or respond, I am just a bit out of place.
This man was definitely talking to me. He prefaced the story by asking me what I thought would happen and whether or not he did anything wrong. Then, he conveniently tosses me from the conversation like a used tissue the minute another person asks what happened. I just shook my head, smirked and buried myself in a book. That is my shining example of the narcissistic prototype, which seems to be a common thread that the teachers in my building share.
Like I said, there are ton of other instances when the weirdest shit is said to me and subsequently, I am locked out of the conversation. I leave these dumping sessions feeling bothered. There is a part of me that knows that the level of respect I give, is not the level of respect I receive, and I should speak up. It matters enough, or bothers me enough that I had the ability to articulate my feelings – but not enough to go back and forth with these closed minded verbose chatter boxes.
There was once a time I tried to talk to people at work with consideration. I will admit that his story was quite a story, but there are some with way less interesting things to say that are able to talk about their shit while holding the attention of others. When I talk, I can see and feel people have stopped listening. It made me just jump to the ending so that I could avoid the agony of watching someone tune out.
I wonder how many people get to the end of these posts. At least when I write, I cannot see if you’ve actually finished reading. That makes things a little better (for me anyway) in our current exchange. I have gotten out all I needed and wanted to say. This is kind of my own inner self-absorbed portion showing its face – I am holding you captive (at least I imagine I am) and I can’t see your expression, but I feel better once I have blogged and posted. I still care what you think, and I hope to bring you some sort of reading pleasure or at least a new thought.
Maybe me being unable to respond in these work conversations unrelated to work is for the best. I just don’t understand the need to divulge anything if no one ever really finishes what they started. Oddly, really not oddly, the self-absorbed and unempathetic people don’t give two fucks about whether or not I say anything. They get to talk about themselves, I look engaged, and they feel better when they are done.
Give yourself a pat on the back; you narrow minded teacher you!
It just strikes me as odd that we wonder why kids are not able to show what they have learned from us when most teachers talk too much about what they know, and don’t give the student the chance to talk about their experience. This is not me. I have the opposite issue; I care too much about their experience. I don’t need them to always have fun or be happy, but I do need them engaged. In my mind, that means that I am not the center of attention and there is space for all in the classroom to coexist. Maybe I am just overly sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others – narcissists included. Oh well. I am very uncomfortable, and I have to take my own ideology and apply it… think it’s time for a change.