Learning to equivocate

So, when I was a kid, I would be the one who said the most outrageous things. The kind of stuff that would have people exclaim my name in surprise, or gasp, or stare at me in wordless shock.

I would ask questions that were seen as challenging or defiant. Stuff that teachers, parents and classmates alike would get angry with me for. My mother commented that I was fearless and headstrong. My father commended my social bravery and my willingness to stand up for what was right.

But they were both wrong.

You see, to be “headstrong,” one has to realize that others are trying to cue you to do something else. And to be brave, you have to realize that what you’re doing is dangerous. When I saved a classmate from drowning at age 7, I wasn’t brave. I had no concept of the danger of jumping in after someone who was drowning or of what someone who is a foot taller and 30lbs heavier could do to you in a pool. I was lauded for my bravery, but they were mistaken. To me, I was just helping my classmate out of the pool because he yelled “help!” and “can’t swim!” between choking on water, and I figured since I was closest, I should be the one to help. I had no idea of the danger. It wasn’t an act of courage, it was an act of empathy.

Likewise, when I did outrageous actions, I didn’t do them to be outrageous. I did them because I didn’t realize they were outrageous.

Sometime in high school, I began to realize that I pissed people off a lot. And that people always thought it was my fault. “Bullshit you didn’t know that was a bad thing to say!” they’d yell at me. “I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.”

But I really didn’t know. And I usually still don’t. But I know that saying what I think, how I think it, is dangerous.

I never learned how to spot when something I’m about to say will piss someone off. I also never learned how to spot when a question has the potential to blow up in my face. But what I did learn, as a way to quit pissing people off, was how to equivocate. How to hide my thoughts behind bullshitese and say something so ambiguous in response to a question that in effect I’m saying nothing. So, instead of saying a dress is ugly, I say, “it’s not my style.” Instead of taking sides in an argument, I reflexively utter some bullshit about how I can see it from both sides. Whenever someone asks me a question of the sort that could get me in trouble, I feel a stab of fear and think about how to avoid giving them any reason to get upset with me. 

People now call me “political” and compliment my diplomacy. They marvel at how I’m always able to avoid taking a hard side.

They don’t realize that I’m terrified of what will happen if I do.

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13 thoughts on “Learning to equivocate

  1. autisticook says:

    This one hits really close to home…

  2. alexforshaw says:

    I know the feeling: I’ve had experiences of saying what came to mind and offending people because what seemed an honest response to me was taken to be insulting or controversial.

    • ischemgeek says:

      Yeah. I still get “Oh my god you’re bad!” and arm smacks if my brain-to-mouth filter isn’t fully operational (which is when I’m stressed, tired, sick, upset and/or inebriated), so I get it.

  3. Mados says:

    I deliberately do the same thing. Not out of fear (sure to avoid trouble … but I don’t feel fearful, I just want to avoid trouble if I can) – but because that’s what is most likely to lead to the best possible outcome, or the least bad outcome if it is a difficult situation. I strive to be as diplomatic as I can and not take sides and try to formulate the opinions of both side if I can in order to improve the clarity, ensure that people know what they’re arguing about (so if there is going to be a conflict that it is at least not a stupid one where people think they disagree but actually they don’t, they just don’t realise it because they are not listening to each other), and to avoid becoming agitated and/or “under fire” myself, which is a guaranteed way for me to end up saying something stupid or being too agitated and annoying people. It is so much better to play the diplomat and avoid confrontations.

    I am not so good at it though that I have ever been called political, and I don’t remember being praised for my diplomacy skills either (earlier on, quite the opposite actually… I guess not having been criticised for lack of diplomacy for a very long time is a great compliment and evidence of progress in my case;-) Maybe some day I’ll master it at advanced level … naaah. Probably not;-)

    • ischemgeek says:

      I used to be criticized for my lack of diplomacy. It’s also possible that I could be misreading backhanded compliments or criticism as a compliment (the difference between “So diplomatic!” and “So diplomatic!” is hard to pick up).

      But, yeah. Not getting called a bitch who’s purposefully trying to piss people off = sign of great progress for me.

  4. autisticook says:

    About the fear of saying something offensive or antagonistic and never knowing when that’s going to be… suddenly makes so much sense after reading this: http://www.snagglebox.com/2013/12/how-to-reduce-fear-for-autistic-kids.html. Basically getting faulted and shamed for being afraid of things that other people are not afraid of because it doesn’t happen to them. I wanted to make a comparison here but it would need a trigger warning so I’d better not.

  5. […] mentioned before, how I would do outrageous things without realizing they were outrageous? Yeah. Cursing out my third grade teacher when I was seven was one of those things. Er, probably […]

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