Every time you open your mouth to speak, you take a gamble. Human beings are so reliant on social interaction, and we go to great lengths to make sure we come off as important, intelligent, and worthy of attention. That’s really what it comes down to: attention. We crave it like we crave sex, money, and bacon.
Really, it is very much like how we love money, that wants and needs can be taken care of immediately with little green paper whenever we so choose. Each of our interactions are really a business transaction in its basest form. We give in order to receive, and there is always a risk that what you receive is not equal to what is given. Therefore, we gamble.
In the time it takes for you to transmit a thought to your lip/tongue/jaw muscles, fill your lungs with speaking-air, and tune your vocal chords, you have already accepted this risk. Luckily, you’re not in Vegas and you’ve learned a few tricks about how not to get ripped off. You know which words are appropriate and conducive to positive attention-receiving (“Would you like to accompany me to a movie this evening?”) and which ones are not (“Would you like to accompany me to a movie this evening, you foul-smelling two-bit whore?”)… or at least you hope/believe you do.
I’ve recently become more aware of the following phrase: “Don’t be ignorant.” I started to realize its increased use in my surroundings after having started a new clerical job in a large office setting. With the new job there were, obviously, new people with whom I’ve had to learn to communicate. Every group of people has their own language, their own set of go-to words and phrases that transcend larger society’s already extensive language (usually comprised of pop-culture references and internet memes).
Out of all of the new things I’ve heard coming from my new coworkers’ lips, the one that truly stuck out like a sore thumb was that one, “Don’t be ignorant.” This has bugged me (as it has countless other grammatically-conscious people) for a long time. This command is most commonly used to tell people off for being rude or inconsiderate, not for being unaware of something, which is the basest definition of “ignorant.” Could you possibly mean, “Don’t be unaware of the social constructs that deem your actions rude, inconsiderate, and/or unacceptable?” Because that would then make sense, and we can continue our conversation about how you indeed are unaware of how rude it is to, say, call someone’s mother a slut or take a drunken piss in the kitchen sink.
But let’s be honest; most people don’t differentiate between the words “ignorant” and “rude” anymore. They just want to tell you off for doing something they don’t like. They take the gamble of trying to communicate their anger in a way that makes them feel superior, and both sides lose chips because the speaker was actually, ironically, the ignorant one. We work so hard to make ourselves feel as if we’re smart, and so often (just when we think we’ve got it!) we come off as the opposite. So what can we do to change this?
I’ve decided to try a little experiment in my mind: I take a moment to think before I speak. Frankly, this should be neither a new nor groundbreaking suggestion. It’s something we’ve had repeated to us like a skipping record since our playground days. And yet, along with all of the other early-taught rules we disregard (don’t forget to say “please” and “thank you,” don’t chew with your mouth open, don’t hit grandma in the face), we’ve somehow reverted back to aimlessly shooting our words into the air in hopes of hitting anything and everything. But I found that retraining myself to actually take a second to consider how my words are received has produced wondrous results. I’ve stopped stumbling through conversations so much, I sound a lot smarter than I know I actually am, and people seem genuinely more interested in what I have to say. While it’s a work in progress, I am more aware of how I seem to be making less noise, how I seem to be communicating. If only those around me could see that communicating efficiently is not a matter of being more intelligent, just less ignorant of how their words are interpreted. Then maybe we could hold more productive–more interesting–conversations.
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