Listen when I’m talking to you…

How does it feel to realize/you're all alone behind your eyes?/seems to me if you can't trust/you can't be trusted -Ben Folds

I’ve had this problem since… well, since forever.

Let me get one thing out there before I start explaining this. I am shy. I always have been, by nature, a little nervous around new people and in large groups. I had to fight this in order to ever be any sort of student; I almost killed myself with fright and anxiety in high school doing three years of speech team (I got so good I went back to coach once). The shyness is mostly gone. It used to be a big problem with the ladies, but I even found one of them I’m not shy around anymore.

Okay, that said… I have a problem talking in classes.

It’s NOT related to my being shy. It’s NOT related to not having read (though I was horrified when my MA thesis chair and mentor Heidi thought I was being quiet because I hadn’t read; her’s was one of the few classes where I read every-single-word with attention because it was digital rhetoric and pedagogy, my bread-and-butter).

It’s cultural.

Let me explain. I’m a mixed-blood Cherokee (and perhaps Navajo… we’re trying to figure out what, exactly, my mother is).  I was raised in such a way that certain things were valued. One was the wisdom of elders. You let your elders speak, and you pay attention. You don’t sit anxiously waiting for your chance to blurt something out. You listen actively and attentively. Another was that you don’t talk over anyone, even if you’re the elder. That’s rude. And the last was that if you don’t have something to add– if your comment would just be for your sake– you save it.

This doesn’t work particularly well in a graduate seminar class. And this past week, thanks to some people who can’t really respect the greater needs of the class, I had to do something that horrified me. I had to talk over someone.

I’m in a course right now that I would call too large. I sort of like the subject matter (it’s tough, and I don’t agree with a lot of it, but I like it) and I adore the professor. I would love to sit and just talk to the prof and a few other students about the material. The problem is that there are students in that class that I’d call “peformers.” They are concerned with how they are received and how often they can speak.  Their need to constantly be the center of attention is fine, generally, in graduate school. Someone has to fulfill the role of “person who speaks when no one else wants to.” But these fellow students take it to an art form (I feel bad speaking ill of them, but no one who reads this blog will figure out who they are, as this is not a “standard” course I’m speaking of and none of my regulars really know these folks).

This week, in that course, I was making a point, as was someone else. The performers wanted to go somewhere else with the idea. So I did what I was taught not to do, something which I felt was terribly disrespectful and outright hostile– I raised my voice and continued talking. For like three minutes. Finally, someone had to say “wait, there are two conversations going, we need to stop.”

I am hopeful that my rattling on over the others proved the point to the professor that space is not being given to everyone due to what is essentially academic bullying (not that I feel bullied– I just feel like it’s a shame. I get my answers by talking to the prof at other times).

I know that we’re about multi-culturalism these days in the academy; maybe one of the things we could stand to absorb from other cultures is the idea of listening first and speaking second.

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One Response to Listen when I’m talking to you…

  1. k8 says:

    Sigh. I’ve been in classes with those people. They can turn a topic I enjoy into hours and hours of torture. Good for you for finding a way to deal with them, but too bad it had to be something you are uncomfortable with. I’m uncomfortable with that approach too, but for different reasons – you know, the whole being the daughter of older/old-fashioned parents who value good manners. Listening is polite. Don’t say anything if you don’t have anything good to say. Etc.

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