I have this tendency to want to know the literal truth. Yeah, yeah, that fish you caught was 10 feet long, but how long was it really? I love metaphor and story and ambiguity and shades of grey, but if something’s presented as truth I generally want that truth to be precise.
People either admire this trait in me, accept it along a continuum of accepting to begrudging, or treat it like a fatal flaw. Where they fall on the scale tends to determine how close we can become. To use annoying corporate-speak, it’s one of my core values, so it’s not going to change, because I don’t want it to change. But something about how I wrap my head around it needs to change.
Even though I’ve been accused of being too literal, I sometimes feel like I need subtitles because even the people who say that don’t take me literally.
The fault is mine. I often understate or make a joke of something in order to not make myself vulnerable, so compared to the expected dramatic retelling I seem less affected than others might be (for you Austen fans, I’m an Elinor rather than a Marianne). On the other hand, I often overexplain because I feel I have difficulty making myself understood … which makes it more likely that I’ll be misunderstood because she doth protest too much.
I’m caught outside the Goldilocks effect of literalness; too cold or too hot, I can never get it just right.
When I write a blog post I’m usually making a specific point — I just take a babbly, circuitous route to get there — so it’s frustrating when, say, someone reads a post about how getting down to survival basics and nature helps me cope with death and translates that as “yay, you’re totally over it!” Or when a multi-billion dollar media conglomerate refutes points I didn’t make. Or when that same multi-billion dollar media conglomerate says “it doesn’t read that way” of a tweet that literally reads that way. What they meant was they were objecting to the subtext they had ascribed to my literal words.
I spend too much time in my head inventing future scenarios in order to practice expressing myself in a way that will convey to the listener exactly what I want to say. I play conversations in my mind trying to land on the magic formula that might allow for understanding, and to prepare myself for possible objections or misunderstandings. It’s the coping mechanism of an introvert who wants to be heard when I talk, dammit.
I have a friend who regularly misunderstands my “I’m trying to think of how to say this…” as “I need a lie in order to get the end result I want…” but it’s the opposite. The end result I want is for people to understand my truth, even if they don’t agree with it. (Though, yeah, I’d rather they agreed with it.)
I understand that I can’t control other people’s behaviour, only my own. I don’t seem to understand that there are no magic words that will allow someone to hear exactly what I want them to hear. Even if I had subtitles, I can’t control the subtext.