twelfth blog … should you start titling these?
You are amused, looking back on several brief instances of miscommunication that happened tonight at dinner.
You like the thought of yourself as an unwitting actor in a little comedy of errors. To whatever extent, you sometimes like the thought of your life and all lives, and even life itself, as a comedy of errors. Well, anyway,
You were enjoying the special company of one of your old friends from high school, and you had together decided on dinner at a local Mexican restaurant.
When you were ordering your meal, you wanted to replace the side that comes with it, french fries, with a side of fried yuca. But apparently you said, “… and instead of fried yuca, could I get french fries?”
Your waitress wondered aloud whether you might mean the opposite of what you’d said. You were surprised and you felt silly and laughed and apologized, and thanked her. Somewhere among all that you got out a confirmation of your order.
Later, the conversation drifted to your recent thoughts on marijuana, which you use occasionally. And when your friend was explaining why the idea of smoking weed repelled him personally, you were already beginning to get a feel for his overall tone toward the subject. So it surprised you when you heard him say, “I think it’s good to use the substance”, and you interrupted him to ask him to restate what he just said.
He was annoyed, so you clarified that it seemed to you that he was advocating use—
“No, I’m saying the opposite!” he said quickly, interrupting your interruption.
You added that you knew you must have misunderstood him. And he went on. But within ten minutes your roles were exchanged and he was misunderstanding you.
He had taking issue with your low estimation of yourself, in response to some narrating you’d been doing about a few of your latest self-discoveries. The thesis of your new self-view was (and is) fundamentally this, that you are much more selfish than you have ever realized before and probably more than you will ever be aware of.
And, boiled down, your friend’s valiant counterpoint was this, “Well, as bad as you are, you’re much better than many other people are.”
And you laughed and thanked him. Straightaway you disagreed, and in your mind insisted that the majority of the perceived differences between yourself and others have had an influence on your present selfishness. You thought to yourself: no, you’re really not all that different from most people. But you did appreciate the good intent of a caring compliment from a friend, which is the way you interpreted his statement.
So you told him you appreciated what he said, and that you don’t agree, but that it did endear him to you. And you told him clumsily, and with the awareness that telling anyone that their actions are endearing to you is not normal.
He was annoyed, which dismayed you, and then he said, “Not everybody’s actions are selfish!”
And you said, “Well no, but—Wait, what do you mean?”
“You’re saying that I only said that to make you like me!” he claimed.
“No,” you assured him you were saying “the exact opposite!” and you laughed, recognizing the by-now famous appearance of miscommunication.
On his face annoyance gave way to confusion. You restated that you were thanking him for complimenting you, and that you value his kind intent.
Annoyance crossed across his features again but left just as quickly, and he said, “Well, I guess it doesn’t matter….”
Everything before, between, and after these miscommunications was smooth. And yet this last one left you puzzled. Speculating, you wonder what annoyed your friend:
You wonder whether his statement was less compliment and more opinion, and whether your disagreement was what annoyed him. You wonder whether he would expand his opinion with you sometime, and whether it’s worth all this wondering.
You wonder … whether your love of identifying with others is good for you, or whether you ought to find new ways to express it, because the way you expressed it tonight caused conflict.
Miscommunication of the kind you experienced tonight, but in the case of syllables instead of words or concepts, is called spoonerism.