Over-participation (rant, sorry)

Nat Case hedberg at vermontel.net
Mon Jan 10 18:21:51 EST 2000

I talk a lot (you hadn't noticed?), and I talk a lot in class, in meetings,
in Quaker meeting, etc. And it's a tough line to stay on, between "showing
off" and simply being fully yourself, if "yourself" is a word person.

I actually go back fairly often to Tom's letter to Polly in Fire and
Hemlock: "You have to learn not to notice how silly you feel." I think
overparticipation can get to be a problem when it's combined with a "don't
hit me" attitude. What it ends up doing then is monopolizing the
conversation while shielding the monopolizer from being argued with. It puts
out with out taking back in. It can become aggressive and show-offy. I hate
it when I realize that's what I'm doing.

And unfortunately, the only way to get past that is to get past the fear,
which is what the over participant often thinks he/she is doing by speaking
up. It's kind of a Catch-22, and if you can't get out of it, like Tom and
his horse, you're stuck. 

I'm just finishing up reading a autobiography of the actor Hume Cronyn, who
quotes a sappy but quite right bit of poetry about jumping off the edge and
flying. I think Neil Gaiman used it in his "Fear of Falling" bit for
Sandman. If you're really flying, you don't dominate the conversation,
you're in the middle of it, rising up with it.

Easy enough said; hard to do in a classroom situation, where getting a grade
is really important.

The other thing I've been thinking about recently is the extent to which I
use my smarts as a tool to keep me above some sort of social water level.
Pardon the Quakerness, but there's a particular story that's been nagging at
me which may be appropriate: As William Penn was becoming a Quaker (as a
young man), he had to adapt to wearing plain clothes (he was an aristocrat's
son), and keeping his hat on, and saying thee and thou to everyone. And he
realized sooner or later his sword would have to go. The sword was his right
as a young nobleman, and besides being a symbol of a superiority he was
rejecting, it was a weapon, which his new faith said he should abjure. So he
asked George Fox how long he should wear his sword, to which the older man
replied, "As long as thou canst." 

Which seems like good advice all round to me.

Nat Case

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