jedusor: (seattle gay pride)
[personal profile] jedusor
(My little brother posted this the other day, and it turns out I have rather a lot to say about it, mostly working through things about my past self I see reflected in it. Apologies to Clay if I'm projecting too much; I'll let him figure out how much of this applies to him.)

I used to spend a lot of time feeling curious about what other people were thinking, and frustrated that they wouldn't open up and tell me. Why wouldn't they just say the things in their heads? Just throw things out there, don't worry about how people will judge you! It doesn't matter what they think!

Except there are reasons that people judge each other, and there are reasons not to share everything that's on your mind with whoever wants to know. When I used to toss out whatever I was thinking without much filter, the people around me were judging me. Not just on a negative-to-positive scale, but in different ways: as a confidante, as a participant in a community, as a potential babysitter, as entertainment value, as a drain for their social energy. I may have scored more highly on the entertainment-value scale among my peers when I was fifteen than I do now, but I'm certain that I'm now seen as safer to be around by people for whom socializing requires a lot of energy. I may have been more fun at parties back then, but now I'm more likely to be considered a good resource for friends in need of someone to listen to their problems and support them in their decisions without turning the conversation back to themselves. There is social value in being an open book, but there are also social costs. And I still do tend to express my thoughts more than other people, but I pay more attention now to the question of what is an appropriate context for doing that, and I try to respond more to cues of discomfort from the people I'm with--which, if they aren't also open-book-type people, may not be explicitly verbalized.

Being forthcoming with your thoughts also opens you up to criticism--sometimes well-deserved, if those thoughts were inappropriate to the social context or just not developed enough to be worth sharing. People don't need to be afraid of criticism to prefer not to invite it--or to put themselves in the position of deserving it. It makes sense to consider a thought before expressing it, and it makes sense to choose not to express it if you don't think it's worth expressing. If speaking up in a social setting is a process that costs you energy--which it does, for many people--it makes sense for self-care reasons to default to not expressing your thoughts unless you see a good reason to do so. It may be easy for me to run my mouth off about nothing in particular when I'm bored, but it's not easy for everyone, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Not everyone falls at one end of those extremes. For most people, expressing random thoughts as they cross their mind happens more around people they know well, people who aren't forming initial impressions and won't allow a careless remark to shape their general view of the person. Those relationships take time to develop. I've had a lot of relationships that went from zero to sixty intimacy-wise over the course of a single conversation, and while that can be wonderful and exciting, it's not always wise and it's not for everyone. It's okay to be more reserved around people you don't trust. And telling people who are being reserved to be more forthcoming is disrespecting their choices about how much they want to share. Everyone gets to make those choices for themselves.

Here, I think, is the crux of this: a thought unshared is not a thought wasted. A thought to which I am not privy can still have value to the person who thought it. I am not entitled to the inside of anyone's head; trust is earned, not deserved, and that applies to even the most silly and inconsequential of thoughts, because people judge each other for being silly too. No one is obligated to be interesting to me, and if I'm going to decide they're not being interesting enough without taking the time to get to know them and let them grow comfortable with me, then my definition of "interesting" needs to be reexamined. And indeed it has been, and as a result I have a lot of good friends I might not otherwise have bothered to get to know.
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