Posted by: ritagone | May 2, 2012

Tell Me About It!

 

I loved my mother-in-law Evelyn Warren dearly.  In fact, I always felt that she was the Christian mother that I didn’t have, since my own mother wasn’t a believer, and I was never close to her when she was alive.

But one trait my mother-in-law had that drove both Michael and me crazy was something I call either spotlight stealing or story topping.  It goes like this: you start to tell your story, and before you can utter two or three sentences (if that many), my mother-in-law would interrupt with a story of her own that would top what you were communicating.  Let me give you an example:

Me: “I think I’m coming down with a cold.”

Evelyn: “Oh, tell me about it!  I had such a bad cold last week that I couldn’t get out of bed!  I had to cancel all my plans and just lay low for two days!”

End of story.  End of conversation, as a matter of fact.  Because there was no getting back to my story after that.  After all, who could then top what she had just shared?  No one.  That was the point.  You just had to let her take over.  Your time of sharing was done.

I love my husband dearly.  If you’ve been reading my blogs for any length of time, you know this.  But he doesn’t do pain and suffering well.  The other day he had to have a colonoscopy.  Now I grant you that this is not a procedure anyone would choose to have.  And we all know that the stuff you have to drink the day before is what is really horrible, not the procedure itself, during which you are blissfully put in the twilight zone.  So for one entire day I listened to him as he railed about the liquid he was being forced to drink at regular intervals.  Had he been a prisoner of war he couldn’t have railed any more eloquently or passionately.  There are three painful procedures in life, he advised me: childbirth, kidneystones, and drinking that particular formula in preparation for the colonoscopy.  You would have thought scientists had devised this liquid for him and him alone, to make him miserable.  And then he reminded me that he had had two of the three painful procedures he had mentioned during his lifetime.  There was a pregnant pause as he waited for me to commend him.  The pause grew longer.  I said nothing.  Because, of course, I’ve had two of the three procedures myself: childbirth (twice) and a colonoscopy about ten years ago, which I guess, in his eyes, doesn’t qualify because apparently the liquid potion I had to drink wasn’t anywhere near as horrifying as what he had to drink.  (By the way, all’s well.  His procedure went well, and he’s back to normal.  I love the man dearly; don’t get me wrong.  This is just one of the quirks in his personality that endears him to me.)

And so when it comes to this kind of thing, my husband takes after his dear, sweet mother.  He’s a bit of a spotlight snatcher, so don’t bother telling him about your colonoscopy, because he can top it.  Just like his mother used to do.

Do you know people like this?  Sometimes the way this behavior manifests itself is quite humorous (and my husband can laugh about it when he’s called on it, as I obviously am required to do), and when you are away from them, you can recount it with laughter.  “The conversation that got away.”  We’ve all had them.  People who just can’t let you tell your tale, for whatever reason, because what they have to say is, to them at least, more important, more interesting, more significant.  Why?  I don’t know.  I’ve thought about it, I’ve wondered, I’ve tried to be reasonable about it.  I’ve felt that if I could delve beneath the surface of this behavior, I would be more tolerant.  If I just knew what caused it, I’d laugh it off.

Sometimes, however, whatever the background, whatever the reason, it’s quite annoying.  Everyone wants to be heard, to think that what he or she is saying to someone else is valuable enough that it should be allowed to be finished, not interrupted or hijacked.

So let me at least make this recommendation: if you tend to be a conversation interrupter, be careful, be more aware.  Try to listen more carefully.  Try to be quiet and let the person talking finish what he or she is saying.  Don’t even cut in thinking that by sharing a similar experience or story you are relating better to the other person.  You’re not.  You’re just stealing the spotlight, plain and simple.

The best wisdom here comes from the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, Proverbs 17:28 to be exact: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”  I can guarantee you that a person like this will be asked back to many more conversations with many more people than the one who constantly steals the spotlight from others!

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Responses

  1. A great reminder for me. Thank you as always for your insightful writing. I’m 50 this year and have been urged to have the scope. I’ll be thinking about this and will complain only internally:) Kim

  2. Sometimes we don’t recognize our own flaws. I wish I could see a “candid camera” video of myself. There’s nothing more sobering than to see yourself interact with others. I also believe this style of communication has to do with “validation”. Some people just never get validated enough. BTW, tell Michael I’ve had all three experiences. By far, the colonoscopy was hands down way easier than childbirth or a kidney stone!


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