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Posts Tagged ‘social’

Almost every day, I take a walk with Nala. We have a couple of regular routes that depend on how much time I have and what the weather is like and how my toe feels and how long it’s been since I last picked up the mail. In the past, this walk has also been a time to catch up with significant others, but for the last few years, it’s almost always been just for Nala and me.

Nala on her leash

Nala on her leash

I don’t take my phone on these walks. This wasn’t a mindful choice; it began because in the summertime I often don’t have any pockets, and it was a mindful choice not to have to lug a purse around for a simple walk in my neighborhood. But lately I’ve noticed how much I enjoy not having my phone.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my phone. It tells me how to get where I’m going. It lets me access my schedule. It lets me keep in touch with a host of lovely people. It gives me information exactly when I need it (and yes, I did check a recipe in the grocery store today in order to choose the correct size of cranberry bag). It lets me take photos that help me remember what I have done and where I have been.

I love my phone too much. I want to check my phone. I want to see what’s happening on Facebook and Twitter. I think of things to google. I flip into schedule mode at the drop of a hat. I want to see if anyone has texted me. I want to text someone. Hell, I simply want to know what time it is.

But I also don’t like my phone. I go to social events, and I notice when everyone has their phone out, and everyone is talking to people who aren’t there, via texting, instead of talking to the people who are there. I don’t think I judge (I know what it’s like to be shy, to want to avoid an awkward moment), but I do notice. Sometimes, when I am not at my best, I think, “Aha! This means I’m allowed to look at my phone too.”  But more often I think, “What’s going on here? How can we re-establish a connection right now?” Because that’s really what’s happened. The social connection has gotten difficult or a little slow for some reason, and instead of waiting it out and sitting with the slowness, we’ve retreated into our phones.

I like noticing. I like having some daily time when I remember what it’s like not to have the impulse to check. I like not always being available.

I revel in the opportunity to be actually alone. When my phone is there, it is a constant reminder that I don’t have to be alone. But sometimes the company provided by my phone can feel hollow. I remember that according to Facebook, my life is an uninterrupted stream of exciting events and cute outfits. According to Facebook, I live a magazine kind of life, and yet that isn’t actually what my life is like at all. My life is so much more complex than that.

I like having uninterrupted time with the people who are important to me when we just…talk. And sometimes we sit in silence. And sometimes the conversation is not the most scintillating thing ever, and most likely there’s something really exciting happening somewhere on the internet. And I don’t care.

Because it is in that space that conversations deepen. It is in that space that conversations spread out to become some of the most interesting I’ve ever had. It is in that space that I learn things about the world, and about the people in that world.

It is in that space that I get to feel what it is like to be you.

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Ah, the jellyfish. A brainless, spineless sea creature that drifts along feeding and spawning incessantly. And yet it is strangely hypnotizing and beautiful. Not completely unlike its human relative, the Jellyfish Friend, or for those who don’t like to be friends with mean people, simply the Jellyfisher.
Bridget Jones’s Diary and its sequel (written by Helen Fielding) introduced us to this species of people: “Humph. Rebecca is not “great”; she is a Jellyfisher. Talking to her is like swimming in a lovely warm sea, then suddenly something stings you and next thing everything is back to normal except a bit of you really hurts.” The Jellyfisher is defined as being a person who makes small cutting comments and put-downs, all the while pretending to be perfectly friendly and ordinary.

For awhile I thought the Jellyfisher was mainly a fictional creature. Perhaps I could live in this state of blissful denial through the combination of having many male friends (for whatever reason, the Jellyfisher tends to lean female, at least in the media), making the effort to be tactful as much as possible, and blaming myself over others in a pinch. However, I’ve recently had the interesting though dubious distinction of being able to watch one of these bloodthirsty creatures in the wild so I can vouch for their existence.

As far as I can tell, Jellyfishers live to make us feel badly about ourselves. No matter how solid we think our armor is, Jellyfishers will, with consummate skill, locate the few little chinks and stick their stingers right in there. Sometimes they’ll even discover (or create?) a chink we never knew we had. They dress up their phrases with such judgmental gems as “well, if you’re comfortable with that” and “oh, isn’t it nice that you finally [have a boyfriend/sold a story/got a raise/pretty much anything else you can think of]”, with occasional snide remarks about how your clothes/hair/belongings aren’t very nice or you’re obviously an unkind/immodest/unintelligent bitch (except said in a very subtle way or as if joking, sometimes so skillfully that other people involved in the conversation won’t even notice).

No, I am not using this essay as a mere excuse to show you pretty photos of jellyfish. Really…

So what to do about your friendly neighborhood Jellyfish?

1. Identify these people as quickly as possible; this way you deprive them of the element of surprise and limit their potential ammunition. When we feel badly after interacting with a particular person on a regular basis, this may be a sign that we are dealing with a closet Jellyfisher.

2. Ignore the stinging comments. Refuse to rise to the bait and become defensive. Instead, smile and make a dismissive comment, or simply change the subject. Then think or talk it through later to avoid internalizing the negative messages this person is giving you about yourself.

3. Avoid this person when possible. Obviously there’s only so much we can do to avoid some people who play a role in our daily lives, but we certainly don’t need to seek them out.

4. Stand up for yourself. Ferrett is trying to teach me that it is not necessary to be polite to people who are behaving rudely. I’m still thinking about that, but even if you’re like me and being rude feels like drowning kittens, it is still possible to stand up for yourself while being polite and firm (often with a dose of deadpan humor). Examples: Jellyfisher: “Well, as long as you’re comfortable with that.” Me: “Why, yes, I am comfortable with that. Thank you for being so supportive.” Jellyfisher: “Do you really think that red is your color?” Me: “Why, yes, I do. I simply adore red. I’m glad you agree.” Jellyfisher: “You think you’re pretty smart, don’t you?” Me: “Why, yes, I actually do have a high IQ. Thanks for noticing.”

Of course, with a close enough friend, bluntness may be called for if you have any interest in saving the friendship from dramatic implosion and/or causing you prolonged misery.

What do you think? How do you deal with the Jellyfishers in your life?

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Since I wrote my essay on ambiversion last summer, I’ve been thinking about the introvert-extrovert continuum a great deal. Perhaps even more so because that essay is by far the most popular one on this site and continues to draw in a fair amount of search traffic. This makes me think I’m not the only person who cares about such things.

What have I been thinking? I’ve been embracing my identity as an introvert, actually. I’ve spent most of my life unconsciously believing that being an introvert is a Bad Thing. Because, you know, those extroverts have all the fun. While I do believe that American culture contributes to this belief, I see no reason why I can’t be as nonconformist about this as I am about other widely held issues.

So here is my official announcement: Being an introvert is AWESOME! I get to have deep and interesting conversations with people, either one-on-one or in small groups. I get to do amazing creative projects that often require heaps of hours by myself, and it doesn’t bother me. I can be perfectly happy and content and charged without having to take the trouble to make sure I have social plans every single free moment of the day. I get to spend lots of time thinking, which means I get to analyze and learn and have plenty of “aha!” moments. And I tend to think more before I speak, which means I have a better chance of being able to support the people I care about (not to mention a better chance of avoiding saying the most stupid things that pop into my head).

Sure, being an introvert means I have to work harder at being assertive. But since I’m not down at the far end of the introversion spectrum, a lot of the more difficult aspects of it don’t bother me. Basically, I’m an introvert who can pass. (Perhaps this is the real definition of an ambivert: Someone who is not so extreme on the spectrum, so they are able to pass for the other if convenient.) This means that often I can enjoy the best of both worlds, and I’m not dodged by people’s perceptions of my introversion.

What I have realized is that being an introvert and lacking social skills are not the same thing. Imagine my surprise at this discovery! Someone can be an introvert and still have excellent social skills (or successfully develop them). Or someone can be an extrovert who has zero social skills. While there may be a certain amount of correlation between extroverts and social ability, it certainly doesn’t seem to exclude these other possibilities.

This became even clearer to me when I took another personality test based on colors (here is a version of it if you love taking personality tests as much as I do). My highest color is blue, which is the social helper type. Yes, I’m a self-esteem builder who gets the most satisfaction from work that allows me help and inspire others and make a difference in their lives. No surprise that I’ve spent most of my adult life being a teacher and writer. It even fits in with this blog of mine, doesn’t it? And yet I’m also an introvert. These two parts of myself are not in conflict. In fact, I believe that being an introvert actually assists me to better understand and inspire others. How’s that for some positive framing?

Here’s my question for you: how does being an introvert or an extrovert help you in your life? And if necessary, can you pass as the other type (be an introvert who appears to be an extrovert or an extrovert who appears to be an introvert)?

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