Friday, December 28, 2007

How Valuable is a Stranger's Attention?

As someone who consciously spends a portion of my life listening to people, it always catches my attention whenever someone professes the desire for someone, anyone, to listen to them. My heart goes out to these people, who have muscled down a prideful position and instead given over to the idea of self-expression.

There are entire professions devoted to listening to people. It's what people pay analysts a stereotypically high fee for. That movie scene where people pour their hearts out while reclining on a couch, box of Kleenex in hand, then pop up when the hour is finished and head out, refreshed and smiling, into the world. Just the mere act of spending time with a therapist is the weekly fodder for some sitcoms even, as the more neurotic characters boast of seeing two or three analysts in sequence.

This goes on in the Real World, too, though not necessarily to the same comedic excess. I've sit in on therapy sessions and accompanied people to the office, offering a reassuring presence in the waiting room. It's the only time I ever get to read People Magazines from four years ago, so I get something out of it, too. Did you know Tom Cruise is married? To a girl, even?

One of the blogs I semi-regularly visit belongs to an acquaintance. She's not a friend of mine, though that condition is more due to our lack of shared experiences than anything else. I see her often during the week, and we're basically at the level of nodding to each other in the hallway.

She did catch me by surprise at a restaurant last month. I was meeting a group of friends there, but I was (as usual) early. I wandered the floor of the restaurant, looking for my group of friends. Instead, I stumbled upon ANOTHER group of acquaintances. They shouted hello, and I walked over to their table only to say, “This isn't the group I'm looking for!” and walked away smiling over my shoulder. While dining with my friends, she left an hour later, waving at me as she headed for the door.

Owing to my unfamiliarity with her, my reaction wasn't immediate. I assumed she was waving to someone else. After all, since when do pretty girls wave and smile at me when I'm out on the town? Seldom, that's when! When I realized she was looking at ME and waving at ME, I did a double-take and waved back, feeling like I was back in high school. No matter how suave I think I've become since then, it never quite leaves me; it comes roaring back at a moment's provocation. Always relaxed around the ladies; that's me.

I told you that story so I could tell you this one: when I read her blog (one of the few who makes semi-frequent updates) and saw her make an entry in which she craves for the opportunity to talk to someone, it started me thinking about the sort of person who makes such a declaration. Her entry is in the context of life uncertainty and past disappointments.

Had I been asked, I would have thought her a quiet and withdrawn person who keeps to their own circle of friends. Does that kind of person make declarations about their personal life on a public blog?

Somehow I doubt that the class of people who types on blogs can be distilled into a “type”, complete with “common” characteristics.

It got me thinking about one of the oldest issues I've pondered regarding blogs: for whom to we write them? There's really only two answers. Either we write them for the outside world (which can be as limited as our groups of friends or as wide as the internet) or we write them for ourselves. I think a large portion of the healing power of blogs is seeing what we write “on paper”. Similar to the magical power of speaking things out loud, only to have them become meaningful, I think that blogs afford the writers a way to express what may be difficult in other circumstances.

So I believe in the therapeutic value of having someone, ANYONE, read what we have to say. In the same way we can draw comfort and direction from a one-sided conversation with a friend, whose only responses are nodding and “hmm-ing”, I think we can benefit from writing about that which troubles us. Writing about the things that make us nervous, anxious, heartbroken, expectant, fearful, and exhausted is a way to free the words. We can liberate the words from the bouncy confines of the padded cell between our ears.

And in doing so, it can alleviate pressure. As any physics student knows, removal of a quantity from a confined space reduces the pressure in that space.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that is indeed ironic.... (or perhaps I'm just psychic)