For some reasons I've been doing a lot of thinking this past week. Like, a lot more than usual. Perhaps it's because I started training in piano again as opposed to just playing. Chopin's etudes always evoke strong emotions from me due to its technically demanding passages, coupled with immeasurably beautiful voicings that must be sung on top in a proper performance. And when emotions leak, so do my thoughts. Initially I was more fixated on social issues, but then the thoughts started turning inward, and onto my own issues.
People who know me even a bit would probably have noticed that I can be insensitive. I tend to be very direct and blunt when I share my thoughts, but it can also come across as being mean at times. My sister points this out to me very often. Whenever she is just trying to make small talk with me about pop culture stuff or shared 'facts' from the Internet, I almost immediately brush it off as trivial or factually wrong rather than engage in the talk.
I do wonder at times. Why do I feel the need to be puncture her wishful thinking? Is there a benefit in informing her that most celebrity stories are strategically planned? So what if guava juice isn't actually a real home remedy for cancer prevention? What's wrong with hearing her complain about things without offering a solution?
At first, I thought it might simply be an issue with my tone of voice. Many of my sentences tend to start with phrases like "are you aware that" or "you do know that", which can be obnoxious if it follows with a statement that is rebuking in nature. After all, where is the sin in trying to enlighten them to more accurate facts and alternate ways to view certain issues? It is unpleasant for people to be told they are wrong, but if I did it with more tact, they wouldn't take it personally or get as annoyed, right?
However, when I really thought about it, there are a few other things, bigger struggles, going on in my head, causing my insensitivity, in both speech and action.
The first struggle is ego. The biggest trap any intelligent person can fall into is to believe that they know more than most of the people around them. This may be true, but highlighting or advertising this fact in every conversation would be annoying to their friends. It may also have the opposite effect of making their friends not want to learn more; they gradually distance themselves from the intellectual, and also are driven away from knowledge seeking in general. This ego-related insensitivity in conversations is probably the main reason I have fewer friends than I could.
For me personally, this ego problem does go back to high school. I had no social life back then due to things I've already talked about in past posts, and for the longest time the only thing of true value I thought I owned was my intellect. It became central in my life. I convinced myself that I should only participate in activities that grew my intellect, and that I should only hang out with other intelligent people.
I went from being an intelligent person to being an intellectual, a thinker that despised the trivial and the mundane. That's how I became an ideas kind of guy who mostly focuses on the future, to offer solutions on making the world better rather than simply complaining about it. That has worked well for me in terms of my career and even this website, but my social life has suffered as a result, since people wanting to hang out doesn't want every conversation to be about politics and philosophy. I do try to be genuinely interested in other people's conversations, but to do so successfully I must first eliminate the ego within and acknowledge the value of trivial and mundane, the everyday things that makes life meaningful even if you have the big picture worked out.
The book that has really helped me with regards to dealing with ego is Dale Carnegie's How to win Friends and Influence People. Unfortunately going from head knowledge to practice is going to take some trial and error. Learning how to be sensitive to the level of depth and contents appropriate, especially across different social settings, really requires more experience. I'm not there yet, but I'm still trying at every opportunity.
We all love to share good news; good things that happened to us because it gives us satisfaction and fulfilment in our life. However, if you aren't sensitive to the situation of people around you, your success story might cause them to avoid interacting with you out of envy or shame, or because you inadvertently fuelled their depressing situation.
Facebook is probably the best and worst thing that can happen to friendships in this regard. Save for sending out a mass email or text message, it is the easiest way to let everyone you know what is happening in your life, good or bad. At the same time you can also see what everyone else is up to. The more public everyone is about their career, love life and other social status, the more likely they start comparing. If you just broke up with your partner, how painful would it be to immediately hear about two other friends getting engaged? If you just got fired from your current job, would you want to hear about your less-qualified-but-luckier friend getting promoted?
When we do well in life, how the less fortunate friends choose to react to it isn't exactly our responsibility, but if we share our success at inopportune times, it can be more easily interpreted at flaunting; a deliberate boast to boost our own status in the world at the cost of theirs. That's when the friendship could break down even if you do or say nothing else wrong to them.
Again drawing from my own experiences, I have started doing well in many respects these past two years; got a great job, home owner by 25, fully paid off a car and having some of my work possibly published in an upcoming bestseller book series. I am excited about these milestones in my life, and in my excitement I shared this news with friends through Facebook, and evidently many of them showed their happiness for me with lots of 'like' button clicking.
However, after sharing these stories, I do notice a few friends talking to me less. These were friends who were still trying to achieve the same things, but have been unsuccessful thus far. They may have worked even harder than me in some respects, but the world is unfair. To them, further interaction with me at this point would only remind them of the disappointment of their own unfinished chapters. This friendship would never have been soured if I didn't announce my success so publically, possibly prompting mutual friends nudging them about it to further drive home the pain.
The solution to both this and the ego problem is the same; humility. Putting others above yourself and keeping a low key about your own personal life. There is no need to publically announce every good thing that has happened; we can just savour the happiness offline, and only tell people if they ask about it. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram transform what should be friendship growing and sharing to unhealthy competition of who is living a fuller life, who is most popular, who is happier.
It might be a bit ironic to be saying this on a public website, but at least this channel of communication is by subscription. People voluntarily came here to read these thoughts rather than me shoving the full blog post onto their News Feeds directly, and perhaps that is the key to successful relationships; by choice, not by force.
This is something I am still working on. I too had a long period of feeling like everyone else was living a better life than me. I didn't have a thousand Europe trip photos to upload, or hundreds of people liking my display picture every time I changed it. Perhaps as compensation, I overshared recent good news to make up for being 'ignored' on social media for years. The only way forward now is to be more reserved with future announcements, and hope those friendships strained by insensitive success-story-sharing will heal through time and we start chatting again.
I wanted to let everyone know that I am aware of my insensitive tendencies, and I am actively working on the underlying issues. Perhaps the people for whom this post is most relevant, won't ever get to read it since they don't follow my blogs, but I do want to apologise if I have offended or annoyed you, directly or indirectly. I never try pull anyone down on purpose. Everything I say or do, I do as an imperfect human being, trying to make his own way through the symbiotic machinations of life.
Also, if you want to know whether you have ever been insensitive to me, chances are the answer is yes, but I'm ready to forgive and move forward together if you are!