Taking the “I” out of your conversations can be an eye-opener.
By Shannon McGill
Here’s a challenge I’ve lately given myself (inspired by this brilliant blog post) in an attempt to reorganize the way I interact with others.
While I am speaking with a person, I try to be aware of how many times I say “I” and/or direct the focus of the conversation back to myself.
I try to minimize, as much as possible, the number of self-referential pronouns I use, and if I can stay under a certain number (maybe five to 10 inside of a 45-minute chat), then I secretly congratulate myself.
Instead of trying to advertise my own opinions/anecdotes/recent accomplishments, I try to ask the other person more questions, get her to elaborate, ruminate, tell me a story, or (gasp!) give me her advice on a given topic.
Because of the ubiquity of social media, many of us have become accustomed to a particularly self-indulgent form of communication. We are able to spew forth whatever jewels of wisdom may occur to us throughout the day without deference to anyone else’s interests or sensibilities.
Usually, the majority of the responses we receive are positive and so we find ourselves in a pernicious feedback loop: I say whatever I want and am rewarded with people’s approval, no matter what.
This expectation for immediate validation is so pervasive that I, an admitted Facebook addict, sometimes almost expect to hear my husband muttering, “like, like, like,” after every sentence I utter.
It’s easy to forget sometimes that the real world of human interaction is not simply a canvas onto which you’re free to splatter your every novel thought and then wait for everyone to give you a thumbs-up. Now that everyone has constant access to a public forum and the ability to subtly craft his identity to garner the most fans—er, friends—possible, it can sometimes be difficult to discern whether people are famous or not.
Over-exposure to social media starts to make you feel famous. As a result, you adopt all the terrible characteristics of famous people.
There’s the rub: too much exposure to social media starts to make you feel famous; like you have influence, like people care about what you have to say.
As a result, you start to adopt all the terrible characteristics of famous people. Your ego becomes over-inflated and you begin to place too high a value on your own thoughts and feelings.
You might check out a lot in real-time conversation. Your friend might be telling you a story about her latest date or art project or diagnosis, and you are nodding your head vacantly, thinking about how you’re going to phrase your next status update, or eyeing your reflection in the mirror behind her, composing your next selfie.
You might conflate the compressed avatars in your Twitter feed with real-life flesh and blood human beings in your actual presence, and as such, may find your eyes scrolling past them, missing so many opportunities to engage in favor of an endless search for more immediately stimulating content.
This is a fairly new phenomenon, I think; this kind of social disengagement with real-time individuals in favor of virtual pings and pokes, but it’s one that’s been building since the early days of Internet Relay Chat. Managing our interactions with others can be so much easier, so much less scary, when they are composed of nothing but pixels and the occasional sound effect.
As Bill Nye famously said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”
The net effect of so much virtual communication and significantly less (and less quality) face-to-face interaction, though, is a bereft loneliness.
We find ourselves inundated with friend-requests, photo-comments, and re-tweets, and realize that we are sitting all alone in front of a screen in our underwear while the world passes by outside.
So this is the way I’ve chosen to compensate for the cold solipsism of social media, and I recommend you try it as well.
When I find myself opposite another person, I try to forget myself. I try to mine the other person’s wisdom and experience. I try to learn their fears and favorites and idiosyncrasies. I try to make the time I spend with other people count for twice as much to account for the empty social calories of Facebook.
Of course if you’ve read any Dale Carnegie, you know that to seem really interested in other people is the larger part of charm. A feigned curiosity about your acquaintances will probably increase your real-world popularity in the long run, but that’s not why you should do this.
Your interest in others shouldn’t be contrived, and it doesn’t have to be. The people around you truly are fascinating, as you’ll discover when you try this challenge. As Bill Nye famously said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”
So join me. Try this the next time you find yourself speaking to another person, your mother, the guy next to you on the train, a lady in line at the supermarket; ask more than you divulge, listen more than you talk; learn more than you teach.
There are so many funny, beautiful, and inspiring things (even more than what is on Buzzfeed!) that will be there waiting for you when you make yourself a student of the (real) world.
Managing a mess
How do I get my kids to clean up after themselves? I’ve tried taking away the car, phone, and other privileges, but it doesn’t faze them.
I admit I’ve undercut these punishments before by giving in, but after spending another day off cleaning up junk that’s been shoved in closets and jammed in drawers, I’ve pretty much had it.
They’re great kids, but we need to organize some lasting routines for laundry and housekeeping. What have you got for me?
–Cluttered in Collingswood
Dear Cluttered in Collingswood,
My goodness, you’ve come to the right place. My chronic messiness verses my mother’s quest for order was the central conflict of my childhood.
During the entire time I lived under my parents’ roof, the condition of my living space was absolutely horrifying. Like you, my mother shamed, cajoled, and punished me (no Lollapalooza!) to no avail.
No matter what she tried, my room was always in shambles—probably much worse that what I imagine you’re seeing in your own home—knee-deep, I mean. It was outrageous.
One morning, my mother finished her shower to find our linen closet empty of towels. Wrapping a robe around herself, she strode up the stairs into my room (I was living in the attic at that time) in an incandescent rage.
She found 24 towels under the heaps of detritus in my room, all in various states of dampness. She immediately started throwing things down the steps as the color rose in her face. I had never seen her more angry and still haven’t.
“It ends today!” I remember her shouting.
But of course it didn’t. Even after she evicted me from the largest, most private bedroom in our house, I could never reform. I was still a disaster. My stepfather used to pass by in the hall and wonder aloud if I were growing onions beneath my bed.
Your letter got me thinking about what my parents might have done differently to get me to change my behavior.
Of course in hindsight I take responsibility for my own sloth and carelessness, but as a teenager, I just did not have the motivation, discipline, or strength to change.
What made matters worse, I think, was that, as a kid, I saw how much turmoil my sloppiness caused in my household, and started to subconsciously identify as “The Slob.”
My parents, with the best of intentions, reflected my Slob-Self back to me with countless reprimands, eye rolls, and lots of teasing.
Without any of us realizing it, I think sloppiness eventually became embedded so deeply in my identity that I am still trying to shake it today.
So here’s my first piece of advice: stop what you’re doing now. Stop the fighting and the struggling and the yelling and the threatening. It isn’t going to work. Look at me; I’m still a complete mess. My mother at her scariest (so scary!) couldn’t make it work, so I have little hope for your success continuing down the same track.
I know it’s hard, but maybe you can try shifting your strategy from punishing your kids when they do something you don’t like to rewarding them when they do something you like.
Here’s how it’s going to work. Young people are very passionate about their interests, okay? They are naturally creative and enthusiastic about asserting their identity by displaying and/or working on things they love. Why not use this great quality in your kids to your own ends?
Sit each of your kids down, without revealing your motives (a cleaner, more organized house) and ask them, “What interests you right now? What do you want to see in here? How do you want to use your space?”
Maybe the answers will surprise you. Maybe your kids will get excited about designing an environment for listening to music, drawing, doing yoga, sewing, practicing makeup and hairstyles, displaying trophies, books, or posters.
Instead of reflecting their Slob-Selves back to them, reflect back what they could be (musicians, artists, yogis, etc.) once they get their acts together. Do a Google image search; make it real. Show them the best-case scenario.
I’m not saying you need to go out and buy a bunch of new stuff and totally redesign your kids’ bedrooms, but maybe you can brainstorm with them about how you can work together to personalize their private spaces to make them more functional for their current needs and interests.
Once you’ve made the changes, instead of using undesirable consequences to try to maintain their habits, try implementing a schedule of positive reinforcement. In keeping with the theme of reorganizing with their interests in mind, maybe offer to help them get a related item—say, a new mirror or a new rug—if they keep their rooms neat (and their stuff out of common areas) for a given period of time.
Write it down. Make a contract. “I, (kid), will maintain the cleanliness of my room for (X) months, and in return I will earn (reward item).”
If the interest/hobby around which they’ve centered their newly designed space is engaging enough, the hope is that they will become self-motivated to be neater and more organized so they can use it for that task. Obviously, this strategy will require more of your effort on the front end, but can lead to a greater degree of independence for your kids.
I have some faith that this new approach will give you better results…but, if not, you could always bring them to my house. It could be like on talk shows when police sergeants take teenage delinquents to a jail to “scare them straight.”
I will force your kids to bear witness to the horror of my overstuffed and disorganized drawers and closets. I will make them stand right in front of the mountain of laundry that obscures my bedroom floor and ask them, “IS THIS THE WAY YOU WANT TO BE LIVING WHEN YOU ARE NEARLY FORTY? THIS COULD BE YOUR FUTURE! REPENT! REPENT, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!”
Pretty sure that would do the trick.
Got an imponderable quandary that only McGill-a-grams can solve? Send your cries for help to email@example.com.