No Talking Tuesday Year End Wrap Up End of Year One
September 29, 2008
I thought I would write about my experience with my no talking Tuesdays this last year.
It has proven to be more beneficial, informative, interesting, consequential and difficult than I anticipated.
The good news is my resolution to continue for the rest of my life is as strong as when I started.
I’m excited to see how my experience continues to develop. Here are some thoughts so far.
Change over the year
When I started my no talking Tuesdays, I’ll admit that I was over exaggerating the novelty and went out of my way to be clever and different and weird. Once I settled into the routine of not talking, and no longer felt the need to ham it up with the needles pageantry of writing responses and dramatically mimed gestures; My ‘no talking Tuesdays’ become ‘truly listening Tuesdays’. The focus being less about what I wasn’t doing (talking) and more about what I was doing (listening). I found certain people really responded to that, and loved the opportunity to expound their thoughts at length, knowing they wouldn’t be co-opted by my response. Women especially took to this.
Women and no talking
Occasionally, a woman I would be going out with would make a date with me on a Tuesday, and when I reminded them of my no-talking, and offered another day, they would actually insist on Tuesday. And far from being awkward, they actually reveled in the opportunity to talk to their hearts content while I listened. Only laughing and occasionally writing replies.
The shift in purpose from talking to listening made me examine the whole notion of conversation in my no-talking shroud of Tuesday pensiveness. I struck me as strange that people (myself included) feel such a need to convince others to think the same. Granted sometimes when another person thinks differently, it causes problems or they get in my way. But most of the time when a person has a different or contradictory opinion than myself, it’s actually of no consequence, and has no bearing on my life whatsoever. So then why should I care? Why is it so important that I convince this person to think as I do? Why does anyone care? It actually seems kind of bizarre.
No-talking effects on others
People’s reaction magnified the good and bad points of their personalities. Some people were really irritated and insulted by it, while others were supportive. It turned out to be a good litmus test, to gauge a person’s PH balance. I was surprised at how supportive, understanding, curious, respectful and encouraging some people were, while others surprised me equally by how insecure, frustrated, offended, embarrassed they became. In some cases I had been previously un-aware of those good and bad traits, and no-talking proved the necessary social duress to bring out some peoples true colors, for better or worse.
This past year didn’t pass without any mistakes. Frankly, I thought it would be easier. Because I knew it wouldn’t be hard for me to resist the desire to talk. But what I didn’t anticipate was how difficult it was be to stop knee jerk verbal responses. When I would verbally respond out of habit, without thought. I found “Thank you” and “What?” to be the most difficult to keep bridled. For example when a waiter would refill my water glass or someone speaking to me said something I couldn’t quite hear.
Once or twice however I talked on Tuesday because I was on the phone late Monday night and didn’t realize the time and spoke past midnight. Which made for startling sudden hang ups, I would have to explain the next time I saw that person.
Because my mistakes were from knee jerk verbal responses, I found myself increasingly guarding against them. It required I partition additional focus and control to contain blurting them out. This extra level of security would become difficult to shut down, and I increasingly found my no talking trauma would carry over into the following day. Often I would hesitate to say “thank you” or similar responses on Wednesday, and as the year went on I found this trauma-caution would extend farther and farther beyond Tuesday. Which is both good and bad, as I now have at most times an extra layer of clearance, for my impulsive verbal responses. This extra round of editing helps catch my stupid responses, that would have otherwise slipped through. On the other hand, I know my communication is more tentative and guarded now, and people probably can sense that on some level.
Experience with strangers
Interacting with strangers is always interesting. Sometimes they never even notice I’m not talking and I’m able to get through a rather long and complicated exchange of ordering food or whatever, with them never catching on. But when they do realize something’s up they generally have one or a combination of the following reactions:
Assume I’m mentally retarded in some way. Whether this elicits sympathy or discomfort varies.
Assume I’m def as well. They talk more slowly and much louder, with very exaggerated hand gestures.
Think I’m having a joke at their expense and are offended, or think I’m a jerk or pretentious.
Assume I lost my voice or am sick and don’t want to spread germs etc.
Sometimes they are really engaged and curious and will look at me with such intense inquisitive searching eyes. They will elongate the communication, and seem tickled with pleasure at the novelty of talking with a mute. These people often prefer to respond to me by writing in my pad as well, whether they think they need to, or do it for fun, varies. (*Note I do not post other peoples written words in my pad on the list)
Power of non verbal, and non response
One of the main things I’ve learned from no-talking is how viable non verbal and non responses are in daily life. Often I would be in an elevator with a coworker who didn’t know about my no-talking, and he would proceed to have an entire conversation with me while we descended in the elevator, and never realize anything was out of the ordinary. When we would reach the lobby I would wave bye and we would separate with him none the wiser. Situations like this happened so often it really demonstrated that so much of communication both verbal and non verbal is superfluous. I now find myself much more likely to respond non-verbally or not at all, and allow the other person to continue talking, even on the other days of the week.
What I learned about the role of conversation
Carrying this observation further I found that communication is rarely about exchanging information for the purposes of developing or refining ideas on a subject. I suddenly found myself noticing how masturbatory and redundant conversation was with my coworkers at lunch. But that they were in fact the same conversations almost verbatim that I often enthusiastically participated in. The difference being that now that my foremost goal in these conversations was no longer trying to convince the group of my point of view on the subject at hand. Or be the most impressively witty or funny etc. When I no longer had this personal stake in the outcome of the discussion and got a chance to observe it for what it was, it suddenly seemed pointless and inconsequential to have a ten minute debate as to whether or not light-sabers in Star Wars should cast shadows or not.
The other function of conversation I noticed once I started taking my lunches alone, (and could overhear others in restaurants) was how shamelessly and thinly veiled many conversations are. Most of the conversations I overheard were back scratching and/or taking turns dumping toxins. By that I mean both people either shamelessly yet subtly scratched each other’s backs with almost passive aggressive compliments, or they took turns dumping their problems and gripes on one another. These conversations would quickly transition to subjects they could both dump on together, usually work or people who weren’t present. There seems to be nothing more socially bonding and satisfying between two people than smack talk.
Most of the conversations I would overhear were between office workers out at lunch. And the general timeline for these conversations was as follows:
1. Exchange pleasantries about innocuous subjects
(i.e. What they did on the weekend. How’s the family, etc.)
2. Then talk shop. Usually about work.
3. Take turns venting their frustrations about work to each other.
Eventually hitting on mutual gripes about other co-workers or office practices.
4. Greatly relish the examination of these problems for the sole purpose of making those involved and responsible seem stupid and ignorant, and themselves in obvious possession of the solution.
I would often wonder how if these people are having so much problems and frustrations at their job, why then would they further wallow in those problems instead of using that one hour a day to be free of them, and enjoy themselves.
I can’t talk from midnight Tuesday morning, until I wake up Wednesday. Meaning the shortest amount of no talking time would be if I woke up Wednesday morning at 12:01 am. The reason for this is that simply not-talking from midnight to midnight would be too easy. I wake up late and go to bed super late. And since I’m often social late at night, it would mean that a majority of my no-talking time would be when I’m sleeping. I would be socially exposed for too short a time each week for it to be any real challenge.
Must have a visual cue that signals my no-talking. At first I wore my black Chinese fighter pilot helmet, later it was a red arm band, finally I’ve settled on simply wearing all black. Certainly nothing original, but I like how it discreetly looks out of place yet not jarringly so. It’s also not without aesthetic merit and helps enforce in some way the mystery of the situation as people who are encountering me for the first time must surely feel.
Whatever I write to communicate with someone in person must be preserved and posted in my ‘list’. No editing or censoring is allowed. Except for communication with co-workers about work, at work. As I am legally required to protect that information. Also email, and instant messaging, txt messaging etc. do not count towards list as they are not in person communication.
Things written in my pad, but which aren’t seen by the person I’m communicating with (for example the person who’s talking changes the subject while I’m still writing a reply to something previously being discussed) must also be put on the list. Sometimes for example I would be writing a question for clarification, and the person would guess what I was going to ask before I finished writing and answers it without seeing what I wrote.
Laughing is allowed. But no communicative noises like grunting or humming etc.
I’m keeping all the rules the same for this coming year except one. For the next year I will restrict my no talking time from midnight to midnight. Admittedly this will make the challenge easier. But the reason for the change is it just became too messy to manage the previous way. For example sometimes I wouldn’t go to sleep Tuesday night because I was working on a painting etc. and so then am I not supposed to talk for all of Wednesday as well? I found myself going to bed Tuesday night and setting my alarm to wake me up in ten minutes just so I could satisfy the letter of the no-talking law. It felt silly though, and I can’t forget the purpose of no-talking is to connect me with hidden truths and to afford me the opportunity to better examine my life and relationships. These sort of tricks are just corrupting the integrity of the experiment and don’t respect the spirit of its purpose. Also by changing my no talking time to be from midnight to midnight I’m able to maintain a better aesthetic symmetry that just feels more correct.
If I feel at the end of the second year that this makes the experiment too easy I’ll consider switching it back to what it was.