The Robot Gospel: Interlude
In high school (the mid-nineties), a friend of mine and I wrote notes back and forth to each other. Pen pals that hand-delivered missives instead of relying on the Postal Service. Even though we were talking to each other, we felt like we were having One Sided Conversations — each of us took turns dominating the discourse without the other being able to interject. We preferred this way of communication, because it allowed us a venue where we had the space to explore our ideas in our own time, removing the pressure of speaking off-the-cuff and mistakenly saying things better left unsaid.
I don’t know if it’s an actual saying, but in the writer’s workshops I ran while working at my bookstore job, I would tell people: “Writing is writing. Editing is writing. Re-writing is writing.”
What that meant, is that as long as you were working on something, you weren’t wasting time. You get better at things by working at them. By practicing.
Some people muse about creativity like it is a font that one must perform rituals at, or that it is some sort of idea space/super-flow that the gods use to speak through you and your art… But (at least for me) it is a whole lot less mystical and metaphysical than that. It’s not special. It’s just something I have to practice.
You work your muscles, you get stronger. You get your heart rate up, you improve your stamina. You write a bunch, you get better at it. Like Pavlov ringing bells at hungry dogs, you write enough, and then when you sit down and tell yourself that you’re going to do some writing, your brain will flip the switch and go: “Oh, it’s time to get our writing on!” And next thing you know, ideas have escaped the dark cave inside your mind to bathe in the sunlight of a world where they did not exist before.
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If you’ve diligently listened to every episode of my Better Band podcast, you know that the reason I started the podcast was because it would give me an excuse to practice talking to people. Being an introvert and no longer working in a front facing retail position, had taken its toll on my social abilities. You can definitely tell if you listen to any of my early episodes and compare it to something from the last season. I actually did get better at talking to people.
That retail position I had was at the afore mentioned bookstore. I was the manager of the music department. For several companies I’ve worked at, I found myself rising up to some sort of leadership position (I even accidentally became Senior Class President after committing too much to a joke). Failing Up is sort of my thing. A result of employers believing I have a strong work ethic — when in all actuality, it is simply me knowing that I am a replaceable cog in the machine of capitalism, and am therefore driven by fear to be as difficult to replace by any off-the-shelf automaton as I can.
Even now, I find myself in a supervisory position, and the boss of our facility has taken to having one-on-one coaching sessions with the leadership team in order to improve our managing skills. And right now, she is having everyone focus on effective communication skills.
Relevant to my interests, no? However, this is Communication, not Conversation. This is about relaying information, not trying to make a connection to people. Sure, you want to seem like you are making a connection, but only in as so far as the other party believes you are looking out for them. Because Capitalism is the goal, and a corporation will only be as loyal to you relative to the amount that it can exploit you.
One of the aspects of effective communication that I have been tasked with, is being Clear And Direct. Don’t waste time giving out information that your listener doesn’t need. Have your thoughts fully formed — don’t meander and think out loud as you try to find the point you’re trying to make.
I felt attacked…
See, I’m no good at being concise in conversation — you’re lucky to get that conversation part out of me at all! If I’m writing, I have time to organize my thoughts and edit them down. That’s why I mentioned that at the beginning of this tale. I setup everything you needed to know while I was getting to my point. That’s definitely not direct, but it makes for good storytelling.
If you just tell someone to do something, they don’t have to think — they just do that thing. If you engage someone and lead them through the steps — show them the path toward the destination — they may figure things out as you lead them, because you have given them all the clues, Mister Police.
However, a more efficient use of my time as an expendable widget within the machine of capitalism, is to just tell someone what to do. Get the job done and move on to the next task. Why worry if someone is being trained properly or retaining information when they are forever going to be on the knife’s edge of cutbacks, or restructuring, or sites moving to a different state with more favorable tax rates?
So … now that I have all these thoughts written down, I can actually go through them and choose the Clear And Direct response for our next coaching session, when I’ll be asked: “How did your homework go with being more clear and direct?”
Okay. Let’s take out all the storytelling bits. Take out irrelevant personal information. My attempts at humor. Symbolism and metaphor could be seen as me trying to appear smart, when I could just present relevant information plainly. Definitely don’t mention “Failing Upward.”
Alright, now first: Restate the question to prove that I was listening (Listening, another key to Effective Communication).
How did my homework go?
Perfect. Now for the clear and direct answer. Taking into account all my experiences in the past couple weeks working on being clear and direct in my personal encounters — which now that I think about it, I’ve sort of been avoiding, because the anxiety of having to be clear and direct in the moment is something that I just can’t get a handle on. Maybe I think out loud as a way to fill the dead air of my processing what to say. Or perhaps it is a social defense mechanism of awkwardness to ward away future interactions, lest someone think that I am amenable to and proficient at continuing a conversation somewhere down the line. Or possibly a camouflage to appear like I am totally comfortable speaking with people and not holding the D note of an internal scream for the duration of this conversational exchange.
Shit, I’m taking too long to answer! Okay… No flowery language. No unnecessary details. Just the essentials boiled down into a pithy response.
This was a mutual crush that was reluctantly held at bay by her being in a relationship when we first met, and me not being the same religion as her. Ultimately, being friends was the only way we would be able to be in each other’s lives, but that’s a whole other story that I don’t feel is mine to tell.