As a committed introvert, I sometimes find social situations a little challenging. Back in the days when people had dinner parties I remember looking longingly at the clock when it hit eleven and having to stuff my fingers into my mouth to stop myself yelling at guests: ‘GO HOME!! I’M TIRED!!! YOU HAVE TALKED TOO MUCH’.
Thankfully, I never did the shouty bit. But it was a close-run thing, (especially when Glen got his guitar out and started taking requests).
These days, being a sociopath is not such a problem. But I still panic sometimes, especially in crowds. And to cope, I’ve developed little systems of managing stress. The biggest is finding ‘Safe People’. This means:
1. someone who is okay with weakness and doesn’t pretend to be perfect. (Obviously you can’t always do this on sight. But a couple of minute’s chat is normally long enough to suss out whether you’re playing oneupmanship or just having a conversation).
2. someone who’s interested and encouraging. (I’m good enough at putting myself down without having others add to the mix)
3. someone honest. (At times this is scary, but because they’re encouraging and real, it’s sort of okay).
4. someone who respects your boundaries but will sometimes challenge them.
5. someone who makes you feel connected.
But then, reading over the list, I started to wonder…am I a safe person?
Especially at big gatherings, the temptation is to pretend I’m confident. To talk more than I listen. To big myself up.
And even with friends, it’s easier to be nice than it is to challenge or be honest. To hide away rather than engage. To have boundaries that others can’t cross.
I guess at times, we’re all ‘unsafe’ and if we’re not careful that can become our default setting. You see if I lead with vulnerability and you lead with one-up-manship, I’m crushed. If it’s the other way around, you’re crushed. If that’s the situation, then what will be our natural inclination in every meeting? We will both ratchet up the performance and neither of us will enjoy it (this is what social theorists call the prisoner’s dilemma). If we’re both performing, neither of us are really connecting with the other, we’re just protecting ourselves.
So what’s the answer? Surely it’s looking to Jesus and saying “Lord, if I crash and burn tonight, you’ll still love me, right? Right??” Then we swallow hard, put our best foot forward and lead with vulnerability. At least, that’s the theory.
You go first…