In a different life, I enlisted in the military and worked in intelligence. I had joined the military after high school to earn money through the GI Bill and through an Illinois Grant that paid for tuition for veterans. After serving for four years from the outset of the Persian Gulf War through Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and then Somalia and one police action after the next, none of which required my deployment, I left the military.
I moved back to Illinois and enrolled in school at Illinois State University. I had taken a hand full of college courses while in the military. The military had sent me to one of the best language schools in the country, maybe the world. Plus they had sent me to several other schools afterwards to learn my future profession as an analyst. I was not inexperienced at higher education.
While serving in the military, I had to write a great deal. I had to read mountains of reports (two feet at a time every other day) along with magazines and newspapers from around the world. Then I would have to put things together and write them up, briefing people in something of a traveling road show around base. I enjoyed my work. I had some brutal editors, but they helped me a great deal. By the age of twenty-two, I had a high sense of accomplishment.
Twenty years ago after being accepted into ISU, I had to take a few different entrance exams. Since it had been a little over four years since I had left high school, the university felt that I needed to prove to them that my English and Math skills were what they had been. I place well in math and did not have to take the 101 level course.
I had to hand write an essay. In 1996, I had not hand written anything since my junior year in high school. During my senior year in high school, our english teacher had brought in computers paid for with a special grant such that we could learn to ‘compose’ on a keyboard. She thought it was a new concept. It was a new concept to me. I was off to the races and almost never wrote anything by hand afterwards.
So when I had to hand write an essay, I was out of practice. We use different areas of our brains to talk, to write, to type when we compose and a few years ago I learned that we use an even different area of our brain when we talk through a dictation program with the intent of writing. My handwritten essay was not one of my better ones and I was rapidly slated for English 101.
This annoyed the hell out of me! I felt like after writing professionally for the previous two years, it was beneath me to have to take an English 101 course. I lacked the wisdom then to understand the nuances of using different areas of my brain to communicate via writing. I didn’t feel that my essay was bad enough to warrant the ‘punishment’ of English 101. Fortunately, the university accepted me into the Honors program and I ended up taking English 101 in an Honors class instead of in a lecture hall with the riffraff.
I was probably a good bit conceited about the whole thing.
A weird thing happened on the first day of class. A young woman with short dark hair walked into the class and introduced herself to us as our professor. Technically, I think she was an associate professor without tenure, but I was a freshman in college and had little understanding of university politics. She drew some lines on a chalk board and began to describe some concepts about the evolution of language. She asked us a question and told us if any of us were able to answer the question correctly, we would get an ‘A’ for the semester and would not have to come back to class ever again.
To this day, I do not remember the question. I do not remember my response either.
I got the question right. I got an ‘A’ for the semester. I no longer needed to come back to this class that I did not want to take in the first place.
I never missed a day of class. I got an A on every paper and test I took in that class.
The professor was beautiful. I could probably still describe her physical characteristics all these years later. She had a beautiful face and smile and body as well. That’s what I mean, but it’s not the only thing I mean. She also had a beautiful mind and a beautiful way of thinking and exploring thoughts.
Getting to the Point
Over the course of that semester she taught us to hone our ability to practice rhetoric and the art of exploring and writing about topics from something of a circular perspective. If you have never studied this, you might be familiar with the bastardized version of the concept that crept into the business world a decade or two back coined the 360 degree review.
I learned to write about concepts from one perspective and then another and another and another and tie them all in within the same paper or essay or report. It helped me develop or start my development as it is something that continues to evolve in me of placing myself in the shoes of others, looking at things from the perspectives of others and attempting to reach a higher level of understanding.
Brevity is nice. Being concise is an amazing skill. In Honors English 101 writing in rhetoric with a circular perspective, I rarely enjoyed either brevity nor the fine art of being concise or even incisive and cutting straight to the answer, except that first day of class.
I did learn how to really explore my thoughts and feelings very completely. I learned how to get an entire thought out.
When we talk with another person in a conversation, sometimes we ‘dialog’ back and forth and some of our responses get cut short or the conversation takes a turn in a direction that opens up many other options and the things we thought we might say get put on a back burner as we attempt to reply inline with the most recent ending point of a conversation.
A weird Alphabet dialog example
If a conversation were the recital of the alphabet, Jimmy might start things off by saying, “A, B, C, D” and stop. Then I might reply with “E, F, G, H”. Feeling the trend, I might be preparing to say, “M, N, O, P” when my turn comes next, but if Jimmy instead jumps to “P, Q, R, J!”
Well, now I am in a conversational pickle now! First, I can’t just pick up with my planned response (or can I?). I might go with “S, T, U, V” or I might go with “K, L, M, N”, but the point is the conversation as it were with this poor example has taken a weird turn. I might end up holding my letters and never get a chance to state what I had intended to say.
You might also notice that I never studied how to write dialog anywhere!
Many times when we have conversations online, we treat these conversations as if spoken out loud and we write something, wait for the response and then reply to the response.
There’s nothing wrong with this. However, when we write online, we are “WRITING!” and we do have the option to simply complete our thought if we like. It is a luxury that we do not always get in real life, when we are in the moment and might get distracted by a hundred other things, verbal and physical and more.
When we write on Facebook from the privacy of our own keyboard, we could choose to complete our thoughts. We can say our piece, express ourselves and not fall into the game of simply waiting for our turns to reply to a response or a prompt.
It is important to read what our friends and family might share with us (when we want to). It can be important to acknowledge to them that we have heard what they are trying to say whether we agree with it or not. Some people just need to be heard.
We can give them the opportunity to do the same for us, to hear us and to hear us completely.
I’d suggest to you, this wonderful person that has read about 1434 of my words on this article already, that some people will read your words. They will take the time. They will hear you out.
Not everyone will hear you out completely and some will not even start or try. That’s OK. That is their choice. They are exercising their free will.
You can still say your piece, complete your thought and offer anyone in the universe the opportunity to hear what you have to say. You might connect with a single person that will bother to hear you out.
You might hear from dozens or hundreds or thousands or more.
The quantity does not matter, because there is one very important person that will hear you out no matter what.
When you complete your thought, you learn a little more about yourself and about your ability to communicate and to understand others. You open yourself up to people, your friends and family or the people you share interests. When they connect with your words, it is a very humbling and fulfilling moment. Suddenly, you are not alone and neither are they.
They witness your thoughts and feelings too. Maybe you get the opportunity to know them better and witness theirs in return. You’ve established the opportunity for a better understanding with each person that you have opened up to.
It is easy to allow social media and Facebook to ‘show’ us the differences between ourselves and the people in our lives. It can create the hollow feeling that everyone is having a wonderful life and we are not. It can create feelings of inadequacy and loneliness if we simply scroll and scroll and make no efforts to communicate.
But when we open up. When we complete an important thought and share it. This gives us the opportunity to connect in ways that almost nothing else does.
Now, I will say, maybe it helps if the thought is a real thought. It probably should not be gibberish or superficial or whatever. There are no rules.
Your truth, whatever it is, is your truth.
I have a friend that jokes about being a serial killer all the time. He’s a wonderful guy and he is not a serial killer. He just has a dark sense of humor, especially online. Maybe if he had followed a slightly different path in life he would have been the next Stephen King or something. Instead, he simply cracks me and hundreds of other people up with his jokes.
His truth, the thing that we connect to, is partly based on his sense of humor. There is lots more to it than that as he has shared much more of his truth over the years.
This is all part of the point. 🙂
Share your truth, don’t shy away from being complete about it. Don’t settle for sharing just part of the truth (as that can hide the truth, maybe even turning it false). Seize your opportunity to communicate and connect with people and savor those opportunities no matter if they are with thousands of people or just a single person or even if it’s just that moment with yourself.
If I’m the only one that does read it, why not just keep it in a journal?
The answer is simple. When you open up, complete a thought, and share your truth publicly, not just with random strangers but with your friends and people you DO care about, it keeps you honest!
That is sort of the point of the exercise.
The other point is that if you simply journal to yourself, you’ve got no skin in the game. Sure your little brother (my little brother has almost always been bigger than me and is 41 now) might come in and find your diary and sneak off to read your writing to yourself, but it’s not too likely. Journals and diaries are super useful, but they are inherently prone to allow us to fudge the truth.
When we write publicly and in front of people who know us, live with us, work with us, play with us and more, we have to keep it honest or someone is going to call us on our bullshit.
There’s nothing useful about that.
So go with the flow, be honest, be open and reach down deep and be brave and share that truth with the people who matter to you and enjoy the strengthened connections that come from that!
Unless, you just piss people off and that’s an entirely different thing all together. don’t do that. 🙂
Twenty years ago, I had one hell of a crush on that English professor. By then I had been married for about three years. I never hit on my professor or anything like that. She definitely did not hit on me. At the time and in my memory, I do like to think a mutual spark existed, but when I think back to myself, I do not think I was that impressive. More importantly, I think this was more of a mind connection or an attraction of my mind to hers.
Towards the end of the semester I learned that this same professor had picked up the ‘lowly’ task of grading the entrance exam essays of all the incoming freshmen. She had graded my entrance essay and found it lacking and forced me to take English 101. Then on the first day of class had given me an A for the entire semester such that I didn’t have to keep going to class.
I am so happy she did both of those things. I learned a great deal from that 101 class. I enjoyed every minute of it. I enjoyed being in her warm and super intelligent presence. I enjoyed exercising my brain and learning to write and think and communicate in a new way. I have used those skills my entire life. I even love the irony of the situation.
I never saw her again after that semester. I think she left the school to go teach somewhere in California. I do not even recall her name. I could probably track it down through my transcripts and maybe someday I will or maybe I will simply continue to savor the memory of everything I learned and how that knowledge has grown since!