‘So do you know how to make web pages?’ my friend asked oh so innocently. Do I know how? I went into painful detail about what I know about web pages, what to do, where to go, how much to pay, how to code, what editor to use, etc etc…
While I was talking, I vaguely noticed that I was becoming more and more anxious. My throat became tighter, my breathing faster, and I felt I was in some kind of danger. This was in one part of my mind. In the other part, I was happily showing off.
After I had caught my breath, I quickly changed the subject. Nice as it was to be ‘the one with the knowledge’, it wasn’t worth the anxiety that went with my explications.
In my family, it was vital to have a lot of knowledge. My college professor dad and my bookworm mother together drummed into us children that the way to be in the world was to know a lot. Dinner would frequently be interrupted by the instruction to look something up in the encyclopaedia or the dictionary. Spouting facts, authorities and long-dead authors was the way to get attention.
As my social anxiety developed more and more, it seemed to me that in order to talk to people, I had to have a great store of knowledge and information about whatever was under discussion. My job would then be to spout some information and be valued for that.
I no longer believe that I must be in the know. At least, most of me believes that. In a conversation, once someone knows it all and tells it all, it stops being a conversation and becomes a lecture.
Every once in a while, I once again fall into this trap. Sure, if someone wants some information I have, I can share a bit. But usually the question is more social than anything, not a request for enlightenment. Or the person asking the question wants to know one particular thing about the subject, not all there is to know about it.
Spouting off information does start to make me anxious. In this case, I think that’s a good thing. It’s my better self trying to reign in the show off and say whoa, wait a minute. What’s really going on here? What does this person really want to know about this? Why not ask him?
If I start to feel anxious in a conversation, I want to stop sooner. I can just breathe for a moment. Catch my breath and myself. And respond appropriately, as one person in a dialogue, not a know-it-all who has to show off.
Pic: Toronto park in October