Okay so I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, prompted by this whole "Am I an Alpha Dog and if so is it a bad thing?" question.
And one of the things I've had to face is that I am extremely, overwhelmingly impatient, and I am very uncomfortable with ambiguity. So this whole crock of "Things Happen In Their Own Time" as a life lesson I can sit here and preach about is just that -- a crock. It is a lesson I need to learn, not one that I can say much about.
Here's how my impatience manifests. Suppose we're all going to go out to breakfast -- you, and me, and maybe Turboglacier and 517 and Housemate. And we know the day and now we've got to figure out the place. I don't care, you don't care, nobody cares all that much. A normal situation includes some kind of, "Where do you want to meet for breakfast," "hmm, I don't know, what do you feel like eating?" "Gee, I could go anywhere -- is there a place you really like?" back and forth conversation. I hate those. I find them tedious and wasteful and stupid and I almost unconsciously work to avoid them at almost any cost. So even when I don't particularly care, I tend to try to cut off those conversations by just naming a place. I am very flexible, but I am also pretty decisive and pretty self-aware. If you ask me what I want to eat or what I feel like doing, it'll take me about 10 seconds to consider it and then I'll give you an answer. "This is where I feel like eating, actually." I tend to expect that anyone else I talk to operates the same way. If I suggest something that you don't like, I assume you'll say so, and will make a counteroffer. And so again and again in social situations I dominate even when I'd prefer not to, just because I step forward into the void and by doing that I don't let quieter voices have a chance to emerge. People rarely override my preference. I wish they would, more. That's something I need to recognize. The back-and-forth "I-don't-know, where-do-you-feel-like-eating" conversation isn't just dead space and wasted time. It's important social signalling. It signals, "I'm flexible. I care about what you want. I want to collaborate with you on a decision that will be mutually satisfying." I also need to recognize that other people, faced with someone who speaks up like I do, assume my preference is a very strong one, and will accomodate it. Sometimes when I am decisive it's because I care a lot. But a lot of times it's just because I figure that someone's got to lead, or else we'll get stuck in an endless loop of "I-don't-know, what-do-you-feel-like?"
So that's one way in which my impatience is sending the wrong signal. I speak up just to avoid a conversation that I think of as wasted, but when I do so it appears that I want to take charge, that I have a strong opinion, that I don't want to collaborate, that I'm not all that flexible. None of those things are true about me, I don't think, at a meaningful level. But I see how the signal I'm sending can be interpreted that way. All because of a fear of the void, of the process of making collaborative decisions, of a waste of time. Time for a reexamination of why those conversations make me so crazy. They're not that bad. I've got to get more comfortable seeing what emerges if I don't step forward and take charge out of habit.
On a grander level, I do the same thing in relationships. I can take my own pulse pretty quickly and figure out what I feel. I imagine that other people can, too. So waffling, or ambiguity, or indecision, makes me crazy. I force a decision, just to avoid hanging out in the open, unnamed space. Usually that means I leave, and then I add the relationships to the column I count as rejections of me. I don't think the impatience or avoidance of ambiguity here is motivated by the same thing as the where-should-we-go-to-breakfast alpha dog signalling. That's an attempt to avoid tedium. In relationships, I think it's an attempt to avoid the pain of uncertainty. In both cases, though, I step into what I see as a void, and I act under the assumption that other people are just like me: just as decisive, just as comfortable being vocal, just as quick to identify and process what they want. If I know, they must know, and if we both know, there's no reason for ambiguity or waiting. Again and again I cut things off because I can't stand ambiguity. I'm not going to audition for you, I've said. You have all the information you need. If you still don't know how you feel about me, that sucks. I'm out of here.
Things happen in their own time. This is an aspiration for me. There is richness in ambiguity and in the undecided. There is information about people and process that comes from the where-do-you-feel-like-having-breakfast conversation. Not everyone is like me, ready to decide everything right away. Maybe I'm not even like that, but have gotten into the habit of acting like it. You have to let silence settle if you want to hear the quieter sounds, if you want to make room for things that grow slowly. Wait and see. That's going to be my project in 2006. Wait and see.