I like that passage in the Miracle Worker in which Helen Keller first "gets" language. Her hand is in the water, and suddenly, she realizes that she is being taught language. In her exuberance, she begins to repeat the "word" for water (actually a touch-based language) over and over.
This morning I sit with a new burst of insomnia, after weeks in which my insomnia had faded away. My mind is alive with permutations of what will happen in the future with a half dozen things in which I am trying to divine how matters will "play out" and what other people are thinking.
I'm intrigued by the perpetual project of "reading the tea leaves".
I don't have to do it much more than anyone else does. I think that we all have to think through how others react to the things we say and do. Whether it is a client representative, a co-worker, a boss, a friend, or a relative, we must make working assumptions about people's thoughts and inclinations, or we run the risk of missing something we may later feel we ought to realize.
I'm very inclined in this journal to say "I am very good at this" or "I am very bad at this", but in fact, when it comes to this anticipation of where others are coming from, I do not have a good descriptor for how I handle these things. In some instances, I feel that I can tell almost exactly what someone is saying to me, or about to do, whether s/he says it/does it in words or not, and react with an almost prescient anticipation. I love that feeling of being able to respond to what someone is not saying, but would be saying next if I did not broach the topic first. At the same time, I can think of so many times when I thought I was "saying the right thing", or listening in the right way, when in fact I got it all wrong. In between those two extremes, there are so many nuances. Like most people, I get it wrong sometimes, I get it right other times. Like most shy people, I agonize so much when I worry I have said the wrong thing at the wrong time.
It's funny how many times I've come to realize too late what was "really going on" in a discussion or set of events, and then felt the truth hit me, like the proverbial board, square between the eyes. Then I can recount to myself all the ways in which I saw all the facts and emotions and details that "should have" clued me into the truth, but in fact I remained oblivious the whole time. Sometimes it might be a friend who has been offended, when I "should have known" to be a bit more tactful. Sometimes it might be a maneuver someone was "pulling off" politically, that I should have anticipated and counter-acted.
Of course, I am a bit arrogant when I imagine that I should be able to anticipate where people are coming from with clockwork precision. I do not have any psychic powers. But because, once in a while, I can see what people are thinking, I imagine that I ought always be able to do so. That's probably some kind of sin, but I haven't checked out Leviticus lately to see if I get pelted with rocks by the community for it.
Sometimes I have a client who will want to try to divine deep meaning in every nuance, and "intuit" deep meaning from things that are not very meaningful. I frequently have to caution such a client not to try to always live in the other side's head. A bit of chess-game anticipation is de rigeuer for the process. But full scale attempts to guess the other side's every move, based on flimsy and unreliable inference, is rarely as productive.
Leaving aside client matters, though, what intrigues me most is not the times when I didn't pick up a subtle clue. I'm much more intrigued when I miss an obvious and blatant and said-out-loud clue. I'm reminded of my friend who left her husband, long ago. She said he was shocked when she did, but she had been telling him for weeks "I am on the verge of leaving you". The words between them had lost their meaning for him, translated by some Star Trek machine into that odd language of marriage, no longer comprehensible to him for what the words literally said.
I have read meaningful and deep passages by people who urge that one should leave behind all "guessing" about where people are coming from. Life then would become some idealized zen experience, taken just as it is, without editing or subtext. I cannot imagine living this way. But it is useful to listen to what people are saying "in words" and to listen to what is being said "without words" and really hear someone. Sometimes I feel that my personal DVD adds this whole Joss Whedon commentary, only my internal commentary is much less effective than anyone else's. On days like today, when my mind is racing through possibilities, I want to slow down and hear actualities sometimes.
As a somewhat satiric and sarcastic person, I wonder, too, how much that stuff is a defense mechanism against really connecting with anyone. Once, in high school, during a burst of religious fervor (I love the way that hormonal change, noble ideals and religious fervor blended in high school into some really potent form of Peppermint Schnopps Grace), I tried an experiment. I would cease being sarcastic or denigrating, to every extent possible. The result was breathtaking. For a shining moment, I was winning friends and influencing people. It lasted about 6 weeks. Those were six socially successful weeks. I wonder why I ever stopped.
But I did, and I am now my old, somewhat satiric self.
I think that in this search for meaning that I see myself as making, connecting well with others is an important thing. It's not one of my skills--I'm definitely friend of the few rather than a friend of the masses. Still, I am a pretty good listener, who would like to be a great listener. It is so important to hear what is being said, and what is not being said. I want to always feel that water racing over my hand, and know it is water. Then I want to overcome great odds, write famous books, win world-wide acclaim, and, vainglorious that I be, also be known for overcoming tremendous odds (not to mention writing about Swedenborgianism). No, not really. I just think Helen Keller was cool. But I would like to feel that my ears really listen, and my mind hunts less for ways people are trying to "get one up" on me, and more for ways I can link up with people.