Tuesday, 26 April 2016

No one's first choice

We all have things that we believe about ourselves, about others, and about how we are to interact with the wider world.  For example, we probably have some idea of how others see us, though this will inevitably be affected by how we see ourselves.

When someone I know came to talk to me recently, I pointed out that she didn't have to.  She'd arrived at the venue with her friends and, due to a problem between me and one of her friends, I sat alone.  The last thing I wanted was to create further problems, so I'd assumed that she would remain at her table, with her friends, and I would remain at mine.

When I said that she didn't have to come to talk to me, it wasn't that I didn't want her to talk to me.  I was simply thinking of the ongoing stand off between another person at her table and myself.  The reply was that she was there because I'm her friend.

It might be useful, at this point, to list some of my core beliefs about how people see me:
  1. No one really wants to listen to me.  It's best if I don't talk too much about myself, and that could also come across as me being self-absorbed anyway.
  2. If people want to talk to me, they'll talk to me.  If they don't come to talk to me, it's because they don't want to.  Approaching someone, or initiating a conversation, might mean I'm forcing a conversation they don't necessarily want to have.
  3. I'm no one's first choice of friend.  I'm there in the absence of other options.
When I list them in such a way, they sound very negative, and they are.  The incident I've mentioned highlights the negative and presumptuous nature of these beliefs.  I'd made assumptions about how another person saw me, and it seems that I was wrong.  Those core beliefs told me that I was simply someone she saw at dance classes, and nothing else.

Point number 3 is the important one.  I never feel that I'm particularly important to anyone although, even as I write it, I'm aware that it's more likely to be a self-esteem issue than an accurate evaluation of my worth.  I know that I often present people with difficulties, however, because they've been quite open in telling me that I'm difficult.
If you can see the image, and you're wondering what the letters INFJ signify, it's a personality type.  More accurately, it's a personality type described by the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.  Unlike a lot of personality tests that are available online, the MBTI, as it is often abbreviated, is based on genuine psychological theory.

Now, we should be careful about attaching labels to people.  The whole point about the MBTI, and Jung's personality types, upon which the test is based, is that these traits are apparent to a greater or lesser degree, and we must always see someone as an individual, rather than a type.  People are inherently complex, and psychological theory barely scratches the surface of that complexity.

Where those types are useful is in understanding how we see the world and the people in it.  If it wasn't clear before, it is now crystal clear that each of us sees the world in a different way.  I can't tell you, with any certainty, that the generalisations about the INFJ personality type are accurate but, in my case, they seem to ring true.

The first picture suggested that I keep a lot of myself hidden.  I've heard people say this about me.  On one occasion, someone noted that she'd told me a lot about herself, but knew next to nothing about me.  A good friend has commented that I'm a very private person.  There are so many other examples, but I'm sure you get the idea.  I realise I'm doing it.  What about the charge that people tell me a lot about themselves?
It's been said that people feel the need to fill the silences that I leave.  That's fair.  I listen and observe more than I talk.  I express myself better in writing, like I'm doing right now, but I still leave a lot of myself closed off from the world.  As the image above suggests, people tend to get the best response from me when they are showing me who they truly are, beneath the layers of pretence that they often use to protect themselves from the scrutiny of others.

Does this mean that I can tell when people aren't showing me who they truly are?  Do I have the ability to see whether someone is being genuine or not?  Is that my superpower?
I'd hardly call it a superpower.  It might sound like a good thing to have, and I admit that it's saved me from embarrassment a few times but, in terms of interacting socially, it's a nightmare.  You quickly realise that people present many different faces to the world, are different things to different people, and all of it is absolutely essential to the smooth functioning of social interactions.  You can see behind the façade, however, and it makes it difficult for you to deal with people.  If they stick around long enough to give you a chance, they eventually come to realise that they have to be genuinely themselves in your company, that you won't judge them for it, because you already know who they are.

The bottom line?  Most people don't like feeling so exposed and vulnerable.  You can count the people with whom you will develop a close friendship on the fingers of one hand, but those friendships will be sincere and meaningful.  The people who turn their backs on you either can't accept a fundamental aspect of who you are, or wrongly assume that you won't accept a fundamental aspect of who they are.
You're probably thinking I could put on a pretence myself, to make social interactions easier.  I can't.  What you see is who I am.  The only trick I have in the bag, so to speak, is to limit how much of myself I show.  This can present itself as me being cold, distant or reserved and can frustrate anyone who is trying to get to know me.  I can't be different things to different people.  I can only be myself.  That feeling of being exposed and vulnerable, which people often feel when I get to see behind the façade they've chosen to put up?  I feel that all the time.  I can only protect myself through being silent, keeping things to myself, and pushing down a lot of powerful feelings.

When Halloween comes around again, if I attend costume parties, I'll choose a costume that allows me to cover my face.  I believe a face like mine really should be covered, but that's a whole other issue.  If I have the chance to be present and still hide myself from view, I'm a whole lot more comfortable.  Like I said, it's the only trick I have in the bag.

The likelihood of me being the first person someone thinks of when asked to name a friend of theirs is remote.  If we've known each other for some time, however, they genuinely know me, and I know them.  I may not be the first friend they think of, but I'm a true friend.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The problem of a crowded room

I always try to arrive early, before there are too many people in the room.  It doesn't always help, and it can only ever be a temporary fix.  More people will arrive, and the usual problem will soon present itself again.

The problem is empathy.  Without any conscious effort, I seem to pick up on what other people are feeling, and that feeling can affect me.  If I'm talking one to one with a friend, it's okay.  Actually, talking one to one with someone makes me feel a lot better.  If I'm picking up on the individual feelings of a room full of people, it's a different matter.  It can be overwhelming.  If I'm not feeling particularly good, it can be impossible.  At its worst, I feel like I need to get away and not be around other people for a while.

It seems to be a question of focus.  When I'm sat alone, and everyone is talking to someone else, I can't help noticing the greater number of people in the room.  If a friend comes to talk to me, I can switch my focus to just one person, and temporarily shut out the other people in the room to a certain extent.  I know they're there, but I don't feel their presence, or what they're feeling, quite so much.

There's a positive side to it, and I'm thankful for that.  If I'm approached with something that needs to be dealt with sensitively, I'm well placed to do that.  I won't tell anyone to pull themselves together, or that things could be worse, because I can see how they feel about this thing that's troubling them.  I can hear it in subtle changes in their tone and in non-verbal signs that all is not well.  I listen to how their problems have affected them, and imagine what it must be like for them.  Alternatively, someone might tell me they're feeling good, and that's great.  If someone's not being genuine, however, it doesn't work for me: I can tell.

I'm aware of the impression I must give.  Someone recently said they thought I didn't like other people, and I suppose it can seem that way.  From the outside, I'm the quiet guy sat in the corner, trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone.  Everything about me says I don't want to be there, that I don't want to talk to you, that you shouldn't approach me.  Well, I'll gravitate towards a corner, or the outer edge, of a room.  I'm the opposite of an attention seeker: I really don't want to be at the centre of things.  I can't stress that point firmly enough: I don't want to be at the centre of things, and getting too much attention makes me feel uncomfortable.

Maybe I seem strange, and maybe it's hard to understand, no matter how I try to explain it.  I guess I'm just different, and I have to accept that, but it would be great if I could feel that the people who are important to me accepted it too.

Do I want to be there?  Should you approach and talk to me?  Yes!  I'm not being unsociable.  It takes a great deal of courage for me to be there, knowing how it might make me feel, and if I didn't like being with people, I wouldn't put myself through it.  I might just be feeling a little overwhelmed, but your company is always appreciated.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Salsa, modern jive and other partner dances

The subject of leads who show off advanced moves, throwing their partners around and potentially making them very dizzy, has reared its head again.  As it came up on a group dedicated to salsa, and I'm very much a beginner in that style, I didn't feel confident enough to comment in the group.

The feedback I receive, as a beginner, is that keeping to the basic rhythm of the music and giving clear signals are far more important than whether the moves are basic or more advanced.  This makes sense to me.

I see dancing as a form of personal expression, rather than a purely technical exercise.  I always try, when dancing with a partner, to give her the space to express her own particular style.  Believe me, every woman has her own individual style and, for me, getting to see her express herself through dancing is a joy.  Why would I deprive her of the ability to express herself, and myself of the privilege of seeing it?

So, manhandling her into position is not something I want to do.  My task, as a lead, is to give a signal - a suggestion - of what will happen next, and her task is to interpret that how she may.  As one partner said to me, if she has a smile on her face, you're doing it right.  Really, it's just having some consideration for your partner.

Thought for the day: this isn't what I expected

I always thought, as time passed by, that I'd become more world-weary and cynical.  Strangely, the opposite seems to have happened.  I sometimes feel frustrated; I occasionally feel anger towards someone or something; I might feel a great sadness about the state of the world.  I clearly have the capacity to feel those things.  What I feel less and less, however, is hatred.  I truly believe that people are fundamentally good, though sometimes misguided.  With that in mind, how am I supposed to feel hatred towards them?

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Thought for the day: a fundamental truth

She stood in front of me for a moment and, briefly, our eyes met.  I remembered how she'd said - wrongly - that I was controlling, manipulative and a narcissist.  I remembered how she hadn't so much closed the door on her friendship with me, as slammed it shut and nailed boards over it.  Looking at her, I knew that something was wrong.  There are times when I curse my ability to see how someone is feeling, and this was one of them.

The look in her eyes; other little signs in her facial expression; the almost imperceptible trembling of her hand; the gathering tears that she refused to let fall - I saw all of them.  She wasn't okay.  I didn't know what had made her feel that way: only that she felt it.  I wanted to ask her if she was okay, although I could clearly see she wasn't, and tell her that she could still talk to me, if she needed to, at any time.

I didn't say any of those things to her.  I held on to the memory of how little regard she'd had for my feelings, how she'd completely misunderstood my intentions, and how she might take any kindness from me as a sign of a weakness to be exposed and exploited.  I remained silent.  The moment had passed.  In an instant, she was gone.

If you ever hear me saying that I don't care, about anyone or anything, you're hearing a lie.  I care about everyone and everything, as much as I sometimes wish it weren't so.  It's a terrible burden, but it's who I am.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Thought for the day: Dance!

I vaguely remember schoolteachers, eager that an upcoming school dance wouldn't be an excuse for inappropriate contact between pupils, walking us through some basic dance steps.  Other than that, September 2015 marks the time when I started learning to dance.

All things considered, as a complete novice, I didn't do too badly.  Still, I was surprised that some of the ladies wanted to dance with me.  I looked around at the men who obviously had many more years experience of dancing than I did, and I was puzzled.  Wouldn't it have been better to dance with them, rather than someone with my limited experience and knowledge of so few moves?  I pointed out to each of the ladies that I was a beginner, and each of them said it didn't matter to them.

I still have my faults as a dancer.  In fact, it's hard for me to think of myself as a dancer.  I consider how I move, and I know that many years of determined training in martial arts have set a template for how I learn new movements.  Sometimes, those old habits make themselves known, and my dance partner momentarily loses her balance.  Thankfully, those reactions I trained over many years allow me to quickly adjust and save her from falling.  The other side to knowing how to disturb someone's balance, and sometimes doing so instinctively, is that I also have the ability to restore balance.

If I ask someone to dance (with my lack of confidence, it doesn't happen often), they seem pleased that I've asked.  Some of the ladies also ask me to dance.

That early experience was in modern jive.  I'm still learning that style, but I recently started learning salsa as well.  So, I went from knowledge of no dance styles (I'm assuming that early informal attempts at breakdancing don't count) to actively learning two of them.  Again, I was welcomed as a dance partner, and I was no more coordinated than I was when I started learning modern jive.

The answer came to me recently, when I considered all that's been said by the ladies who've danced with me.  For the time that you're dancing with her, it matters little to your partner that you only know a few basic moves: to her, you're the best dancer in the world.  How can that be?  Well, at that moment, of all the dancers in the world, you're the only one who's dancing with her.

It's all too easy to get caught up in the technicalities and forget that this is supposed to be fun.  It's dancing!

Friday, 1 April 2016

He looks out at the sea and sky

He looks out at the sea and sky,
so infinite and grey.
He shivers as the cold wind blows,
and birds swoop on their prey.

He thinks of anger, hate and fear.
These things are on his mind.
He thinks of how some people are
so thoughtless and unkind.

He looks out at the sea and sky,
so infinite and grey.
He feels such peace, and that's because
there's no one here today.

He thinks of all the things he hears,
of problems and ill health.
They know that it is safe with him.
He'll keep it to himself.

He looks out at the sea and sky,
so infinite and grey.
He feels the weight upon his back,
and feels his legs give way.

He thinks of how they're never there,
whenever he feels low.
He questions if they even care,
and answers with a "no".

He looks out at the sea and sky,
so infinite and grey.
He thinks that they expect too much,
although he'll never say.

They do not see his value yet,
because he's always there,
but one day he might disappear,
and then, who else will care?