Of my many faults, one of the most significant is a chronic inability to listen. Oh, I can and do listen in conversation long enough to respond, if not intelligently, at least in a way that demonstrates to both parties to the discussion that I am paying attention and offering argument or agreement that is, more or less, relevant. But, when it really isn’t a conversation, when someone is venting or lamenting or just delivering of herself a good old fashioned bitchin’, I am a terrible listener and always have been.
I, invariably, try to solve the problem. I do this knowing it is the wrong thing, even the insulting thing, to do. Like a greedy glutton at the feast, I seize the issue, as if it were my own, and belittle it with an arrogant, shallow and obvious observation. Knowing nothing more about whatever situation is discomforting my child, my friend or, as has happened on rare occasions, complete strangers, than what the speaker has relayed to me, I begin to pontificate.
Now, I know, pontification is no damn good. Even when being done by an actual Pontiff, the act of pontification is no damn good for anybody, not even the Pontiff. When being done by me, on an occasion when the speaker hoped only for a sympathetic ear, an emotional sponge, or a living, breathing sounding board, all helpful and useful things, he or she gets a worse than useless problem exacerbator. A worse than useless problem exacerbator (WTUPE) is even less helpful than a mental masturbator, something that is useless, but rarely worse than useless. For a worse than useless problem exacerbator not only is no damn help, he can do actual harm, should the speaker pay any attention to the proffered solutions. Moreover, the WTUPE always disappoints the speaker, even if he or she is wise enough to pay no attention to the advice offered, due to the WTUPE’s obvious narcissistic, selfish need to toot his own horn louder than the fellow with the original problem. This is particularly bad as the speaker’s sole purpose is to vent and, thereby, toot his or her own horn. As a card carrying WTUPE, I always take a situation and a conversation that is supposed to be about the speaker and make it about me. As I said, greedy, greedy glutton, glutton.
I simply can never remember that the poor bastard baring his or her frustration and anger in front of me needs this to be his or her moment. That is why he or she came. He or she did not come to me because he thought I could help. Of course she didn’t. He came to me in the hopes I’d be a safe emotional dump who would simply make appropriate sounds of sympathy and act like I am awake and care and, then, to absorb the trash and bury it under friendly clay. She needs to dispose of something. He does not need a recycling center or a value added manufacturer. She needs a landfill.
It is humbling to realize, at nearly sixty-six, that I am not qualified or capable of being something so simple and passive as an emotional landfill. Really, if after all my years of experience and accumulated wisdom, I cannot even function as a competent emotional landfill, I don’t know why I am here. One feels a failure.
On the plus side, I can report there are signs of progress. Usually, upon a day or two of reflection, I now realize I screwed it all up, again. I am encouraged by this new found ability, as it is only recently I have incorporated reflection into my routine. In the past, I listened to the complainer complain, up to a point where I diagnosed the issue and formulated a solution. At that point, and not one second later, I cut the speaker off and laid my wisdom upon him or her, patted him or her on the head and sauntered off into the sunset well satisfied with myself.
Now, at least, long after the damage is done, I do reflect and uniformly recognize I have done it again. Once again, I have recycled whatever emotional pain and turmoil being offered to me for disposal and dumped it back upon the original depositor.
Even so, I am making so much progress that, lately, I have begun to know I am doing the wrong thing even as I am doing it. Unfortunately, like Pavlov’s dog, behaving in precisely the wrong way has become hardwired into my motherboard. Whether this maladroit behavior is instinctive, my father was famous for it and my mother was no slouch, or a learned behavior, I cannot say. Either way, I think it is remarkable that I have begun to recognize it while I am committing the crime.
It is my hope, as I continue to struggle with this affliction, that the day will come when I will not only recognize the impending urge to “help” in time to stop it, I will also develop the required self discipline necessary to do so. That last part is a long shot. But, I have now lived the majority of my life in South Carolina and am, I believe, entitled to adopt the state motto as my own. Dum spiro spero. While I breathe I hope.