I’ve always thought it would be great to just say whatever comes to mind, especially in frustrating situations. I’ve longed to be one who gives straight, no-nonsense answers rather than sugar-coating my responses so nobody gets mad. Like when your meal arrives in a restaurant and is unsatisfactory. In response to a surly waitress’s, “I’m sorry, I’m not the one who made this,” I’d like to say, “I know you didn’t, but I’d really appreciate if you could have it fixed.”
Instead, I’m usually cowering at the table and saying, “Oh, I know, I know. I’m sorry to be so difficult. I’m not trying to make your job harder, trust me.”
What would life be like if you could say whatever you wanted? When I ask myself this question, I immediately think of the movie Liar, Liar, in which Jim Carrey plays an attorney compelled to tell the truth for 24 hours. Saying what’s on your mind wouldn’t need such an extreme measure, but I believe it would be liberating to speak candidly and openly with the people in your life. Even to that unpleasant waitress who makes you feel like an insect for adding yet another task to her already exhausting job.
The Silent Life
I have spent most of my life not speaking my mind, because I’m afraid I’ll anger someone. I remember talking with an advertising client who told me she had just purchased a new $400 phone. She didn’t tell me this story to relate some incredible deal she got on the phone, but instead to recount how she paid full price. I remember thinking to myself, “I would never pay that kind of money for a cell phone - not in a million years.” Instead, I smiled and nodded. “That’s a great phone,” I said. And the conversation turned to something else.
I think I am largely afraid to say what I think because I’m insecure. I don’t have a lot of confidence, so I don’t want to risk losing a friendship or angering somebody. If I was brimming with self-esteem, I imagine I’d have no problem speaking my mind and then dealing with the consequences. But I avoid the risk of consequences altogether and play it safe.
The problem is that, because of this, I don’t form meaningful relationships with many people. When you always speak those words that are only on the surface of your mind - rather than those that are lodged in the deep, dark corners – you don’t let anybody really get to know you. And in return, because you’re always focused on what to say next rather than that which is immediately being spoken, you don’t get to know others.
Another problem with avoiding real conversations is that you lose the ability to speak intelligently. You’re not thinking at that more context-filled level because, again, everything you say is only surface-deep. So the conversation lags and quickly fizzles altogether. Knowing this, and recognizing it in myself, creates a double-edged sword. I now try to have more meaningful conversations with people (even when I’m not saying what I really think), but I can’t help but wonder how many times I’ve previously missed out on fruitful discussions.
Conversation should be a balance of speaking your mind, but with tact and meaning. I recently spoke to a cable and internet installer who went on and on about his run-ins with would-be robbers. I don’t think he was telling the truth with his long-winded stories, but I never could have told him that. So I merely went along with him and turned the conversation until we were discussing the psychology behind today’s crimes. In so doing, I literally exercised the art of conversation… and it felt pretty good.