Talking to Strangers
For most people it isn’t too difficult to say kind and useful things to people, often times it can be a little more difficult to be completely and totally truthful, especially if it is truthful about something that bothers you. I knew going into this that it could be very two-sided: easy and hard. I decided that the perfect time to observe my communication with people would be when I traveled up to Syracuse on Friday, and the communication I had with people once I got up there.
When you have to think about what you’re saying to people, and how you’re saying it, often times you second-guess what comes into your head before it comes out of your mouth. Self-observation definitely makes you more aware of your reactions towards people. This weekend I got to self-observe myself interacting with people that I did not know personally. My first encounter was at New York Penn Station, when my friend Val and I were waiting for our train to arrive. We were standing against a wall and practicing a style of dance called tutting, which is all arm movements and keeping them at a ninety-degree angle. I had seen this guy watching us and shortly after he began to approach. I have always been nervous when a random person approaches me, even if they are the nicest person in the world I always put my guard up, but I knew this would be a good way to see how I communicate with someone. “I was sitting over there watching you guys and I have just got to know what you are doing cause it seems pretty cool.” I immediately got a good vibe from this guy and this, I noticed, is what determined the way I communicated with him. I told him what we were doing and he was eager to learn a piece of it; so of course I taught him! He didn’t have it perfect but he had the basis of it and I told him I was truly impressed with how quickly he picked it up. He then proceeded to tell us that his mission was to “spread the funk to the world” by teaching people how to play guitar and other instruments. As we said our good-byes and headed towards the train I couldn’t stop smiling at the situation that Val and I had just encountered; that guy was so nice and we didn’t even know him! What I became aware of is my reaction and kindness towards people based on the vibes that I receive from them (which I would say is pretty standard for most people). I am immediately open and friendly if I feel good vibes, and definitely quieter if I’m not sensing anything good. Never do I ever become rude towards someone if I don’t get a good feel from him or her, I just keep to myself.
My second opportunity to observe my communication with people was when I got up to Syracuse. Having been on trains for most of my day you could say I was WAY beyond antsy and frustrated. Our train status kept being pushed back later and later until I was pacing the aisles and even perching on the arm of my seat. When we finally got to the train station I was completely worn out and I can honestly say I was a little grumpy with a side of loopiness. Tiredness does some crazy stuff to me. So when my friend Will met us at the train station I said “I’m gonna be honest with you buddy, I’m in a mood right now. I need a nap ASAP.” After getting a thirty-minute nap we got ready to go out and then go meet up with his friends. I had met his friends before but only over video chat and they seemed very nice and they were super excited to meet me and vice versa! I was nervous though for one reason: I knew that one of his friends tended to say some racial things when he was under the influence of alcohol, and my friend Val is black. She looked at him before we went out and in a joking, but not so joking, voice asked him if they were going to have a problem at all that night. He said no and then said well I’m not sure; this is where my truthfulness came out. I whipped around and in a joking but clearly non-joking way as well I said “Well lets be sure then because I’m not having any of that shit tonight.” It was in a joking way of course but I think he knew that I was also serious about it. Val has become one of my best friends since I have gotten here and even though she can clearly defend herself, I wasn’t going to take it either. I didn’t want him to think I was being mean but it was important that he knew that now there was someone around who could really take things like that to heart and he needed to be careful. The next three days went really well and we had tons of fun with no problems! What I did learn though was that when I observed myself, I observed others as well. Val wasn’t a huge fan of one of the girls that hung out with us, and although at some points I wasn’t either, I was always pleasant to her. If she said rather dopey things I would always keep my thoughts and facial expressions to myself (which took some discipline). But Val couldn’t handle it. I could see at dinner one night that every time she talked to that girl she always had a harsh tone of voice and I could tell it bothered the girl. So, I approached Val about it that night, telling her that even though she doesn’t like the girl, we are guests at this school and she just needs to deal with it for the next few days.
Overall, I noticed that self-observation definitely helped me discover the way I communicate with people I don’t know well, as well as helped me realize how others communicate. When it comes to being truthful even with people I may not know it’s important that I express how I feel but in a positive light as to not upset or offend anyone. It was easier to tell my friend the truth because we are always very truthful with each other and I knew she needed to know. Self-observation is definitely a different feeling but it’s pretty interesting.