Cait catches me off-guard.
“Mom, when you’re having a conversation, are you listening or waiting to talk?” she asks.
“Huh,” I say.
“When you’re talking with someone, are you listening or waiting to talk?” she repeats.
I stop what I’m doing, look at her and clarify, “Do you mean, when I’m in a conversation and the other person is talking, am I listening and really paying attention to what they’re saying, or am I just wanting them to hush up so I can have my say?”
“Yeah, that,” Cait answers.
“I try really hard to listen,” I say.
“Sometimes it’s hard to listen when someone is saying something really dumb,” she says.
“Yeah, sometimes it’s a real test.”
“Because, ya know Mom, there’s a lot of dumb things coming out of a lot of people’s mouths. Like they’re not even thinking about what they’re saying,” Cait explains.
“Sometimes people aren’t really thinking; they’re just having a reaction to something and have a need to express that out loud,” I say. “It’s okay not to participate in dumb conversations.”
“How do you do that and not hurt the other person’s feelings?” she asks.
“Just change the subject to something that’s not dumb.”
“But what if they change it back?” she asks.
“You could always tell them you think what they’re saying is dumb. But, of course, you wouldn’t use the word ‘dumb’.”
Cait is horrified at the thought. “I could not do that! Could you?”
“Could and have.”
“Yes. Truly good friends count on each other to let each other know when they’re getting stuck in a mental rut. We all need that kind of honest feedback. It’s nice to have someone agree with you or tell you you’re brilliant. It’s also nice to have a friend who’ll tell you when you have spinach stuck in your teeth, or in your brain. That kind of honesty is hard to come by. So treasure it when you find it.”
“Mom, you’re a pip!”
“Yeah, I’ve been told that.”
“By one of your honest friends,” Cait teases.
“Yep,” I smile.
Post Script: Michelle (see comments) brought up an important point about how honesty gets used. I’d like to add a note here filling out my thoughts:
When honesty is wielded as a sword, it’s often nothing but a thinly veiled form of self-righteousness. It does nothing to further conversation, understanding, or awareness; rather it mostly just hurts feelings and shuts people down.
But I believe that honesty offered in compassion and understanding, with thoughtfully chosen words –“ a sharing of one’s perspective and experience rather than a pronouncement of TRUTH” offers the possibility for deepening conversations as well as friendships.
Cait and I have also talked about how to evaluate those times when one should speak up and those times when it’s best to say nothing at all.