The Strength Of Our Words
Author’s Note: Long time readers of this blog, please excuse me if I have written about something similar in the past. I do not mean to repeat myself, but this is an issue that continues to rattle my brain.
A guy once said I was a smooth talker. It was one of my best friends, and he didn’t mean it as a compliment.
We were arguing, over what I do not recall, but as I was explaining my side of the disagreement, he said, “Don’t do it, Jozen. You can talk your way out of anything. I’ve seen you do it and you won’t do it to me.”
I explained to him what I was saying was exactly what I felt and nothing about my words were intended to con my way out of an admission. If I had felt I was in the wrong, I would have no problem admitting as much. He only grew more frustrated and so did I. Defending myself was taken by him as disrespect, trivializing my words as some sort of smooth-talk was his way of slapping me in my face. Had the argument taken place in person, the end result would most likely have been fisticuffs.
The two of us were able to settle our differences eventually and we never talked about the argument again, but obviously I still remember very clearly his attack on me, and I carry it around with me to this day.
I say this not to brag, but if it is one thing I have always been able to do, it is express myself clearly. No one can ever say Jozen keeps his feelings bottled up inside. I am an emotive person, perhaps the most emotive person I know. This has worked to my advantage, but the older I get, the more I wonder if it is actually a disadvantage or who, if anyone, appreciates such a quality.
The strong silent type is who I always wanted to be and yet, I am closer to being called the next President of the United States than I am the strong silent type. The word “shy” will never be used should my name be brought up in a game of word association, unless it’s being played on opposite day. The name Jozen is of Japanese origin, and it translates to “highest majestic tranquility.” My mother used to remind everyone, “That boy is not his name.”
She could not be more right.
Everyone wants to test the man who can talk a good game, which is why my ability to do so has become more of a bother. If there was a serum which enabled me to say less, I would take it, not just to restrain myself from saying things, but also, to make what I say count more. I like to talk everything out, and sometimes, it keeps me from working everything out. Verbal communication is a very underrated thing, until you’re really good at it, then it becomes overrated. So many women have said they don’t want to hear what I have to say because they know my problem has never been admitting I was wrong so much as it has been just saying “I’m wrong” and nothing more.
And yet, this is me: The loud mouth, the guy who always knows what to say. As much as I want to learn how to say less, I also want my words to have as much strength as my actions. Maybe that’s a pipe dream but nothing is more frustrating than being told by someone you care about that your words are not enough, especially when you said them when your mind was clear and your heart was open. I understand the credibility of my words are shot should my actions say different, but to question their credibility based on inaction is a tad bit unfair. Sometimes all I have to say should be all I have to do, and saying nothing at all isn’t a sign of strength so much as it is a sign of emotional laziness.
Today, I originally planned to write about another topic, which I will hold off until tomorrow. I chose this topic instead (and ran the risk of repeating myself) after I revisited an interview between a man and his wife.
The husband is known as one of the most eloquent orators of our time. Some say this is one of the reasons they love him, others say it is one of the reasons they can’t stand him. No matter which side of the coin you fall on, one thing that can’t be denied is this man loves his wife. He has said it time and time again, there are photos of him looking at her and we can all see it.
But these words said by him about her have stuck with me since I first read them two years ago. They are, for my money, the most beautiful collection of words I have ever heard said by a man, about his woman, Romeo to Juliet included.
I share them here to illustrate my point. Being able to say exactly how we feel and what we feel is never as easy as it sounds.
All my life, I have been stitching together a family, through stories or memories or friends or ideas. Michelle has had a very different background—very stable, two-parent family, mother at home, brother and dog, living in the same house all their lives. We represent two strands of family life in this country—the strand that is very stable and solid, and then the strand that is breaking out of the constraints of traditional families, travelling, separated, mobile. I think there was that strand in me of imagining what it would be like to have a stable, solid, secure family life.
Michelle is a tremendously strong person, and has a very strong sense of herself and who she is and where she comes from. But I also think in her eyes you can see a trace of vulnerability that most people don’t know, because when she’s walking through the world she is this tall, beautiful, confident woman. There is a part of her that is vulnerable and young and sometimes frightened, and I think seeing both of those things is what attracted me to her. And then what sustains our relationship is I’m extremely happy with her, and part of it has to do with the fact that she is at once completely familiar to me, so that I can be myself and she knows me very well and I trust her completely, but at the same time she is also a complete mystery to me in some ways. And there are times when we are lying in bed and I look over and sort of have a start. Because I realize here is this other person who is separate and different and has different memories and backgrounds and thoughts and feelings. It’s that tension between familiarity and mystery that makes for something strong, because, even as you build a life of trust and comfort and mutual support, you retain some sense of surprise or wonder about the other person
— Barack Obama from “A Couple In Chicago” by Mariana Cook, featured in The New Yorker January, 2009