People often tell me how refreshing it is to meet someone who ‘tells it like it is’. Whilst I greet any compliment with the undignified gratitude of a puppy getting a biscuit, I don’t really understand this. I don’t consider myself blunt, I consider myself honest.
Clearly sometimes it is best to say nothing, and on these occasions I like to think I can do the socially acceptable thing and stay schtum. You’ll never know if I hate your outfit, or if I think your stew’s got too much salt in it; I’m pretty good at finding something genuine to compliment so rarely need to lie to fulfil a social expectation.
This commitment to honesty has many benefits. I actually notice much more about people and places; instead of my brain seeing ‘striking trousers’ and automatically telling my mouth to say, “I love your trousers,” if my brain finds said trousers unpleasant it instead instructs my eyes to have a better look. When I then compliment earrings / eyeshadow / bag, not only does the recipient feel like someone’s actually properly noticed them (as opposed to being dazzled by their new trousers) but I am a more aware and active participant in the world.
Anyone who knows me knows that anything I say to them comes from the heart – I am terrible at small talk because it often feels like a big, fat lie. If I ask you how you are, it’s because I actually care. If I ask you what you do, it’s because I’m really curious. If I’m not interested in the answer, for whatever reason, I just won’t ask the question. I don’t consider this to be rude – arguably it is significantly better than unthinkingly parroting whatever pleasantry is expected in any given situation. Of course a downside of this is that I often make the mistake of thinking that other people think like this too. On occasion I have to remind myself that X’s friend doesn’t really care about the answer to whatever question he’s just asked, he’s just doing the social dance and in answering him I become rather boring.
I know I can be blunt; it has often been said that I say what everyone else is thinking. Well, if everyone else is thinking it, why is no one else saying it? Several reasons, actually. When people first meet me, they often aren’t sure how to take me; I can seem bolshy and over-confident and this is off-putting for many (I like to pretend I don’t care about this, but sometimes I want to plead with people to stick with me long enough to realise there is more to me than comedic outspokenness). It can be intimidating to be around someone who isn’t fully ‘playing the game’ socially – this can make others uncomfortable as the rules of engagement seem not to apply (for the record, it is never my intention to make other people feel uncomfortable and if I realise that it’s happening I will try to take steps to remedy the situation). Ignorance is bliss. Social norms exist so that people can enjoy themselves without encountering unexpected obstacles or having to confront difficult truths. When someone even slightly doesn’t conform to these it is discomfiting; how do you deal with someone who speaks the unspeakable when secretly you agree with them? You can’t disagree because your inbuilt sense of correctness won’t let you lie, but you can’t agree for fear of being tarred with the same brush as this brash interloper. Tricky.
My suggestion – next time you’re in conversation with someone you don’t know very well, try to be interested. That’s all there is to it. If that’s impossible (and sometimes it seems that it is) then move on. There is a finite number of people you can meet in your life; notice the earrings.