Be Like Water

John Scalzi recently posted a follow up to his ‘How Not to Be a Creeper’ post, all about perceptions and how you can’t really control them, no matter how hard you try. You can’t argue your way into people’s good opinion is the gist of it, I think. Also, just because you can’t control how folks view you, doesn’t mean you bear no responsibility for how you are perceived.

It’s well worth reading.

It also got me thinking.  

I have never, to my knowledge, been a creeper. The idea of being so lacking in self-awareness that you inflict unwelcome attentions on another person is repulsive to me. That said, I’ve always been wary of the minefield of social interaction and while I may not have been a creeper, I am very much guilty of attempting to control perception, at least on my end of things.

Perception is a bugaboo of mine. How I’m perceived by others is of no concern to me, except in that I’m concerned by that lack of concern. Too often, that lack of concern on my part has led to rudeness or condescension and both are quick ways to ruin friendships before they’ve even begun. So I force myself to analyse my interactions. To study and think and plan on how to do it better, so that I don’t ruin future experiences for others.

I live in such horror of coming across wrong or ill-mannered or unpleasant in social situations that I attempt to pre-plan all potential conversations, Crazy-Prepared Batman-style.  I do it instinctively, reflexively, like breathing. I second, third and fourth-guess myself in the milliseconds between even the most casual of interactions, assessing, judging, trying to predict every possible outcome of the words I have chosen. In the end, I never find the best words for the occasion, so I make-do with the least-worst.

If you’ve ever received an e-mail from me, chances are I re-wrote it at least twice, unless I know you well, in which case it was only once. If you’ve ever spoken to me in public, same deal. I have already had every conversation we are going to have and I sounded like an idiot in every single one of them, despite hours of practice.  If you got a coherent response, congratulations, you hit the social interaction jackpot.

I’m bad at being a person. I don’t know the rules and I can only fake it for a few hours before I start eyeing the exits and my pretence of human civility sloughs off, revealing the unpleasant reptilian interior. I begin to lurk at the edges of the herd, eyeing the old and the weak and the sick until I get a headache and I need to go have a lie-down where I can quietly imagine being anywhere other than where I am at that moment.

The joke of it is, the harder I try and control whatever social interaction I’m engaged in in order to ensure its success, the harder it is to maintain that precious equilibrium between ‘active participant’ and ‘piece of furniture’. In attempting to control the flow of things, I’m only losing control all the quicker.

The solution–stop trying to control things. ‘Be like water’, like Bruce Lee said.

Obvious solution is obvious.

As I said above, Scalzi’s post got me thinking about how part of my problem–one of them, anyway–is that I think too much about things that shouldn’t require it, and not enough about the stuff that does.

I’m bad at being a person.

I might just be able to pull off being water, though.

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9 comments

  1. Normally I would agree with you about not inflicting unwanted attention on anybody, except that that strategy worked for me twenty-five years ago, and I’m still married to her.

  2. Hi Josh,

    Enjoyed your interview with Miles Boothe, but I wouldn’t have written to you if I hadn’t spotted this clip from Longstreet here on your blog. Are you perchance a Stirling Silliphant fan? He created the Longstreet series and wrote the Way of the Intercepting Fist script, from which the excerpt was taken. He was also one of Bruce Lee’s students. Best wishes,
    John M. Whalen

  3. Hi John,

    I am, actually! Silliphant, along with Bunch & Cole and Stephen J. Cannell, is among my favorite screen-writers. I freaking love the show ROUTE 66 and the film,THE KILLER ELITE. The latter is one of my favorite films.

  4. Alright! I don’t know if you’ve seen my blog, but there’s an entry about my novel, Jack Brand, which tells how much of an influence Silliphant and especially route 66 were on the writing of it.

    http://johnmwhalen.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/the-jack-brand-story/

    You also might enjoy reading this article that I wrote about Silliphant for the Washington Post, a while back.

    http://ohio66.com/newspaper/washington/eight_million.asp

    Great to meet a fellow route 66 fan.

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