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On not playing with Legos

Many years ago, a housemate of mine offered me a metaphor she felt described a key aspect of our relationship.

In this metaphor, she was a peasant who had learned to wield a sword in order to defend her family/village against external threat, and I was a nobleman who had learned to wield a sword in a tournament, and our interactions were a fencing match the nobleman was insisting on having with the peasant. And a key point for her was that yes, the nobleman was a better swordsman and was winning points, but it didn't really matter because the peasant's goal was to defend her village and family, whereas the nobleman's goal was just to score points.

It was a very useful metaphor in many ways: I learned a lot from it about her, and about how she viewed our interactions.

I was reminded of this earlier today, when a friend of mine said something funny, and I replied with something funny in the same vein, and $friend replied "*sigh* $friend 1, dpolicar 2394872394783 :)"

My first instinct was to reply "Huh. And here I thought we were just raising our collective score to 2394872394784."

This was more or less my reaction to my housemate's metaphor, as well -- "I'm not fencing, I'm playing with Legos. You have some Legos, I have some Legos, we can mix our Legos together and build stuff and tear it down and build new stuff. If you're fencing, well, I'm sorry, but I'm not sure how I can prevent that short of not interacting with you at all."

But, well, for all that I do believe that, I also understand that it's kind of a dick thing to say. I mean, I get that social capital, like any form of wealth, only isn't important if you have a lot of it; I get that adopting this sort of detached "Oh, we're not in competition" stance is a privilege of high standing.

So I didn't say that.

My second instinct was to reply "Sorry." But I wasn't, actually... I understood intellectually that I'd one-upped him, but I wasn't actually sorry.

My third instinct was to reply "You know, I really don't know how to reply to this." But that felt like a cheap rhetorical trick.

I ultimately replied ":-)"

But I've been thinking about it, and the conclusion I've arrived at is that the right solution to my dilemma was not to come up with the right thing to say at that point (I'm not sure there was a right thing to say) but, rather, to have been more attentive to what game we were actually playing in the first place.

That is, if I'd recognized that I was being framed competitively, and I didn't want the social consequences of competing, I could have opted out: I could have kept quiet, or responded with a compliment, or done something else. Instead I went ahead with my own framing, and was misunderstood.

Several people have said to me over the last couple of years that I am kinder than I used to be before my stroke, less arrogant, easier to talk to, more attentive, less challenging.

About 95% of the change, from my perspective, has consisted of just shutting up more... of not saying things.

Relatedly, I've talked a lot about silence in this space, and about trying to embrace the idea that giving up saying things doesn't necessarily mean giving up engaging in the conversation; that listening in silence can be just as much (and perhaps more) of a contribution to connection and collaboration as saying things is.

It still doesn't come naturally; I'm not good at it. Most of the time it's still true that when I am silent, it's not because I'm listening, but because I'm disengaging. But, well, that's what behavior modification looks like. And sometimes it's useful -- as with this post -- to remind myself explicitly that I'm on a journey here.


Oct. 27th, 2010 03:15 am (UTC)
Several people have said to me over the last couple of years that I am kinder than I used to be before my stroke, less arrogant, easier to talk to, more attentive, less challenging.

i.e., BORING
Oct. 27th, 2010 03:20 am (UTC)
Boring is about the last word I would ever choose to describe dpolicar, before or after his stroke.
Oct. 27th, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)
Well, it probably sorts above, say, "hexapodal."
Oct. 27th, 2010 03:42 am (UTC)
Ya know, if you posted more, I'd argue with you more! Come on, we're even moving into an election cycle.

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