Monday, July 20, 2009

To Share or Not To Share

Foreword:
The title of this post is modeled on Shakespeare's most famous soliloquy--"to be or not to be."
That line alone is sufficient argument against the split infinitive. Can you imagine Hamlet saying--to be or to not be?
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The recent story I shared on the near catastrophic oven fire elicited from various friends their sharing of similar experiences. That got me to thinking. When you tell people about an event in your life, do they return likewise a story from their lives? And should they?

My dad, now 90, lives in a retirement village. Obviously, in their daily lives--whether walking, or collecting mail, or just generally being out and about--they encounter their fellow villagers. Of course, the customary and expected question is--how are you? My dad has told me that he sometimes ponders--do they really want to know?

I suspect we have all had such encounters--the innocent question someone poses to us right after we have experienced some pain, whether to body or soul. Of course they don't really want to know. Our response has to be tempered. But, if you are like me, we don't want to deny what we are going through either.

To share or not to share.

There are at least three ways a person can respond.
1) Say--I'm fine. And you? Not very satisfactory, when you are really hurting.
2) Say--Oh, I've been better. At least that nudges the door of conversation open a bit. If you are asked for more details, you can elaborate.
3) Say--well, I have just had surgery, and the stitches are beginning to pull. And the doctor said. . . About then your companion's eyes begin to glaze over.

And then there is the temptation to match detail for detail.

Oh, you are still recovering from your surgery. Say, did I tell you that I had a . . .

You totaled your car? Too bad. Hey, I had a. . .

On and on. Tit for tat.

I've known people like that. No matter what you had go wrong in your life, they always have a bigger, badder, more painful, more disastrous, far worse situation, illness, insult, accident--whatever--than you have had.

I appreciate hearing how our lives have shared experiences. People who had also experienced kitchen fires made me realize how fortunate we were that nothing serious really happened. People who share their life circumstances help to reduce the sense of isolation I can feel when I may be sick, or experiencing some difficultly. We do well to remind ourselves that we are not the only ones who have ever suffered from whatever circumstance comes our way.

Well, thanks for letting me share. Any words of wisdom on how to handle this conversational dance?
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Afterword:
Today marks the anniversary of three years of blogging. I can't think of a more fitting topic for the three year blog anniversary than sharing.
know that I posted the 400th blog about a month ago, and I don't mean to overdo the anniversary thing. But, I found this cute widget on someone else's blog, and it keeps track of blogging anniversaries.

11 comments:

dog-geek said...

If someone is feeling bad or embarassed about something that just happened to them, I'll usually try to diffuse the situation by sharing a story about something stupid or embarassing that I've done, that is hopefully funny in retrospect.

In the dog training classes I teach, it is not unusual for someone's dog to do something completely unexpected in class, that causes their owner to be absolutely mortified or frustrated to tears. Often after I help them address the issue, I'll try to let them know that it really isn't as big of a deal as they think, by sharing a story of one of my dogs embarassing me, or whatever. Dogs, after all, were put on earth to keep us humble, right?

On the other hand, if I ask someone how they are, usually I really DO want to know. If someone has a need to talk about something, I genuinely want to listen, and I try not to interject with a story of my own.

Peruby said...

I agree with dog-geek that I like to make people feel better if they feel ridiculous with what has happened to them. I don't do this if they have a sad story (I don't think it would be proper to downplay their sorrow), but all bets are off when it comes to humorous stories! I love a good laugh.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

I guess I respond to such questions/statements based on how well I might know the person, whether I thought what they said/asked was genuine or simply perfunctorily polite, or whether I could add or share anything that might help.

Sometimes when someone tells of their event, and you relate your similar story, it's not to top or one-up them, but to confide membership in the club of human nature and experience; to say that wasn't any more stupid or unexpected or embarrassing than my deal. Or to say I know you're hurt, or hurting, that you're sad or lost, depressed, ill, or that life currently seems hopeless…but I've also been there; I know first hand what you're going through; there is recovery, hope, tomorrow.

I've had perfect strangers suddenly open up and relate an incident in their life which changed my attitude and outlook on a problem. I hope I've done the same for others.

I've always heard that by sharing, joy is doubled and troubles halved. I think when we're being genuine, this is true.

NCmountainwoman said...

This has been something of a problem for me since my recent life-threatening GI bleed. I told the details to my two best friends. I told a condensed version to people who would have noticed and questioned my absence (my nearby neighbors, some relatives, and my blog readers). Like you, I don't want to deny what happened, but I don't want to expound on the topic either.

Guess I'll play it by ear when casual acquaintances ask how I've been. I'll most likely say something to the effect, "I had some unusual medical problems but they are completely resolved and I am absolutely fine now."

Jayne said...

Happy Blogiversary Donna! Three years is quite the milestone. We are happy you are here.

Indeed, I think we all know people who can "one up" us on any story we tell, but I suppose for the most part, people want us not to feel alone in our stories.

As for "How are you?" I think most people use it as a conversation opener and, like Carolyn said, it depends on who asks as to how much I'll share.

Teena in Toronto said...

Happy blogoversary!

Ruth said...

Conversational one-upmanship can be harder to overcome the older we get. After all, we have a wealth of experiences to draw on. I have to bite my tongue sometimes when my daughters share things and do my best not to minimize their experiences with my "wisdom".
Happy blogaversary! We started blogging the same month but I lost track of the time. Where did the last 3 years go?

Climenheise said...

Do you remember the common greeting(s) in the lands where you grew up? Typically something like: "I see you." "Yes." "How are you?" "I am here. I ask you the same." "I am here." Alternately: "How did you got up?" "I got up." Or: "How are you?" "I am alive."

I like these. They acknowledge the importance of the other and commit the speaker to nothing. One can go on: "How is your family?" "They are all alive." And so on. Later in the conversation one might talk about the ailments and difficulties of life, but the beginning is to acknowledge that the other is truly present and alive in your field of vision.

Anonymous said...

My usual response to "How are you" is "Happy. How are you". I am amused at some answers. Some, "I'm fine" some "Good". I feel like responding “My Lord said “There is none good but one, and that is God” but I usually refrain. Some answer “Oh with a surprise in their voice) I’m Happy too.” Then sometimes I expand that happiness is an act of the will not the physical feeling or emotion.
From your 90 year, 1 month, 1 week, and 1 day old Father "C" (and “C” does not stand for “Father Christmas” or Santa Claus)

amarkonmywall said...

Congrats on 3 years! It usually makes sense to match the level of sharing with the relationship although an awful lot of folks have editorial issues in one direction or the other. My dad, since his recent stroke, has been sharing altogether too much. ;-)

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

To the routine question, "How are you?" I have occasionally risked honesty and had the person carry on as if I had said, "Fine!" when in fact I had indicated a serious "not so fine" condition, possibly depression, suicidal feelings whatever.

My worst encounter like this came when I stepped out of the New Haven Courthouse to be asked by a person I know "How are you?" I replied, "Not very well, I just got divorced.!" He carried on, "It certainly is a lovely day." At that point I probably would have talked his ear off telling the sad drama of my life. Perhaps, he sensed this and refused to pick up on my opening.
I went on to wallow in my despair, alone. It lasted 20 years.

Now I often deflect these routine inquiries of "How are you?" with "You don't really want to know!" and move on with the conversation. Few people really care how you are.