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Words on our tongues

Monday, 07 March 2016 Written by // Don Short: life in transit Categories // Gay Men, Don Short: life in transit, Lifestyle, Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces, Population Specific

Watch what you say. Don Short says whether about HIV or in life, how we talk about each other either joins us or separates us.

Words on our tongues

The strength of most relationships is in the delivery of words. Good conversations over coffee or cell phone are savoured and catalogued, stimulating the pleasure centres of our brains. Then there are those magical times when you don’t have to say a word because you are both in the “know” – soul mate synchronicity at its best. 

You only open up and bare your soul to those whom you gained trust with, and reliance on. You become vulnerable because you know they have your back. Try having a heart to heart with someone who shows indifference or platitude …a failed outcome every time!  I often wonder if we look in our conversations and see some of the glitches in our delivery of words. 

Years ago, I made the mistake of sharing my life publically at an event sponsored by an AIDS organization. Participants attending my presentation were to fill out a waiver to not record or disseminate the content of the guest speakers. I gave a time-line expose on my experiences growing up gay – the good, the bad and the ugly. It was received well and my unorthodox visual props enhanced my storytelling. A week after the event, a student writer at a college newspaper took liberty to report my life journey in high detail. It was brutal - a misinformed piece of writing full of error and disclosure. The writer was demanded to post a retraction, but the damage was done. My story got out there. I was put in a very precarious place of mistrust with the AIDS organization who I was representing, and with the host college. It got brushed over, but I was left feeling all-too-vulnerable. 

That was a professional faux-pas. What about everyday conversations that we engage in? 

There are dead-end cycles that repeat if we want them to.   

Sometimes patterns in communication reveal a deeper issue. There are a few people that I have met who seem to be self-aware of only themselves. They call or text when they are in conflict with someone else and need you to be available - “narcissism on speed dial”. Yet, they easily forget that reciprocation might be a respectful return on the investment. They are never around when you need a listening ear. Somehow, a one-sided friendship is coddled. It becomes a tricky thing to address – try it. You’ll get a lengthy response of all they are going through and how they “they don’t need this right now”. 

Another pattern – empty promises. Sure, let’s get together for coffee. We need to do this again. Months go by and unless you reach out, the plans fizzle and fade. Busy lives, distractions, mental health struggles, addictions – all can diminish the development of good communication among people.

Once, a friend asked me to come into Toronto to do a movie night. In our coffee conversation, I put it in his ball court to book this in. He had made many plans with me before, where I took initiative to get in touch about it and there was always an excuse or indifference or I felt guilty for reminding him. I wanted him to follow through on his own initiative. So a month went by and I sent a hello text. Another month went by, and I mentioned our previous conversation over coffee to do a movie night. I got this back- “you expect too much”. It was a jarring reply and quite passive aggressive. I guess he was right - I expected too much!   

Then there are social network apps. Online messaging on dating/hook-up sites doesn’t perpetuate or foster healthy communications.  In fact, it has the potential to reduce us to stupidity. The brevity and urgency of immediate need often propels us to say things in the moment, that when reviewed later, brings a measure of embarrassment or regret or an annoying reminder of our wasted time. The “delete” button becomes our default. We erase more messages than we keep.

So I’m looking in on myself as well. It’s a discipline to be more accountable in what I say to others. It gets tiring to join bandwagons of slander, sharing the dirt on someone just ‘cause it’s true, or perceived to be true. Sure - I need a social network, and sometimes it’s easier to not ruffle feathers and give in. But there have been those feel-good moments where I took a personal stand and stopped accommodating dead-end exchanges. I want my conversations in life to have some substance and weight, and balanced with fun and frivolous exchange that is not demeaning or hurtful of anyone. 

I don’t want people to say they know me by what I tweet or post. I am more than a sound bite or status feed. I want real relationships where those who are in my company can enjoy the best of me but stick around when shit hits the fan, and vice-versa. 

I must be hyper-aware of this lately because I am getting older, and it gets challenging to make new friends. I also live in a quiet town, and am jolted when I pick up a conversation in the city that tells me we are far from where we need to be when it comes to good communication. 

The bigger picture shows me more. When building community – whether based on ideas, interests, identity, culture, religion, gender or orientation – words matter. How we talk about each other either joins us or separates us. Simple daily exchanges of niceties and pleasantries can alter a mood, make someone’s day and open up possibility. And what’s not being said, if brought out in the light, just might change the trajectory we are on.