Social angst

I wince under the irony of the fact that I consider most people so vapid that I can scarcely tolerate them, yet I want them to enjoy their time with me. Most of my social interactions result in a net loss, for not only do I not enjoy my companions; I rarely learn from them; I don’t feel bolstered by my part in the interaction; I don’t believe my companions enjoyed my part in our interaction; and I even feel a loss of self-respect due to my failure to socialize in a mutually gratifying way. My need for society is analogous to my need for religion in that both are unabating and unrequited.

Somewhat in my defense, I have observed that if you record a conversation—or a speech, lecture, or sermon—and play it before an audience—no one but your family will voluntarily watch it. The situation is almost as bad if the conversation, speech, etc. is heard directly, but the act of recording it removes the listener from any semblance of a give and take relationship, causing the emptiness of content to become obvious. I suspect therefore that most people truly are as boring as I perceive them, and that any interest they appear to possess must be attributed to their relationship to their listeners.

As a boy in church, I was called upon from time to time to address the congregation. I was stricken by how bored and distracted my audience looked until I observed that the audience looked the same no matter who was speaking, and I concluded from this that I might indeed be boring, but at least I was no more boring than anyone else. It is still true that I don’t long to excel as a speaker or a conversationalist (such goals overtaxing my credulity), but only to equal some imaginary average. Even this I cannot do except on those occasions when I am drawn to someone for information (as when I am talking with a botanist or geologist), or when a person is gifted at drawing me out and affirming the worth of what I offer. I realize that the approval of people in the latter category can not usually be taken personally, because their interest extends to everyone. Like Will Rogers, they would say they never met a man they didn’t like (a claim that would hardly have astounded me more had the speaker been a woman who said she never met a man she didn’t sleep with).

I went to a funeral after I wrote the above, and I reflected upon what I had written as I interacted. Since I possess so little hope of either pleasing or being pleased by others, the best I could think to do was to be kind and to at least appear interested (as opposed to talking about myself, as is my habit). I have heard it said that we eventually become that which we pretend to be, but I have not found it so. Maybe the reason is that I am not kind enough, kindness being a haphazard endeavor for me. It is a virtue that my native empathy, combined with my considerable intuition, enables me to excel at when I think of it and resolve to do it, but these prerequisites are often lacking. It could also be argued that I expect too much of others—and of myself—and this might be true, but it can only lead to a resignation akin to that of putting up with an old dog that can’t help but piss on the carpet.

One of the reasons I prefer to write rather than to converse is that talking is so nearly effortless that too much is said, whereas writing takes time and dedication, and thereby encourages depth and conciseness. It also eliminates distractions and allows me to proceed at a slower pace. If my speech were as personal and profound as my writing, people would consider me peculiar and not know how to respond; but if my writing were as shallow and desultory as my speech, I could fill pages without saying anything of interest.