The comments after my post about the grocery store conversation I had has got me to thinking about comments in general. And I have come to the conclusion that comments are tricky things and writing about comments even more so. (Brilliant insight, I know.) It is all because so much of what we infer from what people say to us has to do with tone. Sometimes people say things that give what they say a meaning they didn't intend. (This is something we are constantly working on with our children. You are saying ___________ but your tone is telling me ___________. Which do you mean?) Tone is also terribly difficult to convey through writing. There is no sound and facial expressions included unless the writer is purposeful about including them. It's why those little emoticon-things are so popular.
For example, take the relatively straight forward comment of, "Nice hat." In looking at just the words, it pretty much says, "I think your hat is attractive." But I'm sure it is very easy for every one of you to imagine a few different tones which would make that comment have very different meanings. Writers must use descriptors to convey the tone of what is being said.
"Nice hat," she said with a sneer in her voice, her eyes flicking briefly over the offending object.
"Nice hat," she giggled, all the while trying not to let out the huge laugh she felt building up inside of her.
"Nice hat," her husband said, hoping she thought it was nice and not her most recent find for the upcoming white elephant gift exchange.
"Nice hat," the scruffy looking woman said, while patting her own bare head.
"Nice hat," her mother said as she looked at her daughter appreciatively.
You get the idea. (And having written all of that, I now have lines from Go, Dog, Go running through my head. "Do you like my hat?" Yes, I like that hat. I like that party hat." etc.) Tone matters.
Since I am the mother of a conspicuous family, I receive a lot of comments and questions about a lot of different things. I don't really mind this. I am very interested in other people and I assume other people are just as interested in me. We live in a fairly impersonal world and if we are going to interact with other people, at some time or another, we are going to have to start up conversations with people we don't know or don't know very well. Even though I am a classic introvert (and yes, I am currently reading, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking), I enjoy answering questions about my family... assuming what is being asked is not going to hurt my children or invade their privacy.
But sometimes, those comments and questions don't seem so pleasant. I have had the downright rude and nasty comments, to which I have just walked away and I have also had conversations start where the questioner seems angry and it turns out to be just how that person communicates. I am always a bit surprised when those conversations end so pleasantly and I am glad I chose to respond gracefully instead rudely in return. Because you just never know.
And then sometimes there are just the odd encounters which don't really leave an avenue for more discussion because of either how they are phrased or where they are asked or how they are voiced. More than anything, these odd conversations tend to amuse me, and so I shared one with you on Saturday. It wasn't so much the questions themselves as the high-decibel screech they were delivered in that struck me as unusual. It's like tying to have a conversation when the other person is USING CAPITAL LETTERS FOR EVERYTHING THEY SAY. It's difficult to communicate when the other person is yelling.
I guess I just needed to assure all of you that I really don't mind comments or questions asked in good faith. I always reply (as much as I am able) with gracefulness. I know how we live is somewhat unusual in our current society and I am happy to discuss why we have made the decisions we have, but I also know that sometimes you have to decide if a conversation is worthwhile and deflect (as gracefully as possible) the questions if you deem it not to be.
I find it a fine line to walk. I wish I did it well 100% of the time.