Friday, July 23, 2004

On How Some People are So Easily Trusted

Once I knew a girl who had a very interesting trait. For some reason, the alchemy of her personality caused complete strangers to confide their most inner thoughts to her. Although I never personally experienced her ensorcelment, amazing stories from clerks to phone operators filled her free-flowing anecdotal coffers.

The other day, almost a decade later, I considered the reason for this phenomenon. What would cause someone to begin to grant unrequited confidence and expunge their inner mysteries?

America, as I have come to learn, is replete with inordinate and sudden intimacy. Europeans, like the French, are regularly taken aback by the compulsive nature of Americans to bare their skeletons without necessary cause or apparent shame.

This avenue for interpersonal transparency, sometimes to the point of awkwardness for a foreign audience, tends to deconstruct negative presuppositions but is an unilateral narrative unless with another American or, perhaps, a fresh victim of emotional duress.

Ironically, this openness, though disorienting to the fact, implies but does not mean the speaker is an honest or open person. In a twisted ? yet common ? course of realities the most volitional conversationalist is paradoxically the least revealing.

In my youth, I bore this characteristic of relentless chatter whose volumes shrouded my inner persona which was regularly, though somewhat unintentionally, misrepresented by the energy and spirit of the subjects I frequented.

I wasn?t your regular windless raconteur, but I really shed little or no light personally. I consumed my own loom of the lexis misdirecting even my own attention from my then unexplored, intimate, recessed confidences.

Conversely, some cultures are equally recognized for their intensive reticence. Cracking their shell for a chosen few, these cagey socialites like Russians and the Finnish paint an external picture of coldness and distance, occasionally startling their audiences with some unexpected, introspective candor.

But neither of these cases is what I mean. A third type is the genuine giver. What they are saying is true and meaningful, at least to them, and saying it is not malevolent supposition or innuendo, but what?s true as they know it. They spill their insides out and what you see what they really are. This is what I mean.

What causes people to expose themselves so?

The first option I see is the need for secrecy. If secrecy was not part of the requirement then a good friend or family member would be the bearer of these inner thoughts. Consider how a stranger provides an element of secrecy. Add to this stranger a pleasing temperament and a sympathetic repose and she becomes the perfect candidate on which to lay burdens down.

One example, which helps close this question, was a housewife who felt her husband?s love was wilting and susceptible to the evils of infidelity. She shared with her who later shared with me her intimate fears of matrimonial discord.

Consider how a friend might develop undue contempt against her friend?s waning husband, requiring her to inexplicably defend what offends her. Perhaps an incorrect version of her statements could find a path back to her husband, exacerbating her spousal fears. Consider how a family member might compulsively defend their finest and possibly expose the situation in a myopic vein of love.

Now consider the stranger who bears none of those threats.

The diary is popular for similar reasons.

This is my best reasoning for this; I will persue no others.

For example, a battered wife will initially suppress her condition in hopes that her abusive husband?s love will supplant his tempest. After a period of shattered hopes, she feels shame ? not from being the victim but from foolishly concealing her longsuffering. Similar to the above situation, she will more easily confide in a stranger (typically a counselor) before treading the public square.

Although it was not only women who drew to my friend, the stories of women are the easiest and most matter of fact to understand.

One girl?s inner struggle to accept her parent?s decision to handle her grandfather?s depreciating health was particularly interesting. Although her initial conclusions misrepresented her fearful parents as errant, she was not interested in counsel. This was a regular feature of this phenomenon; the speaker was not seeking suggestions, only an audience.

In my own day I have desired the comfort of an anonymous confidant. A stranger in the elevator, waiting for a streetlight, even colleagues offer some shield from other spheres in our lives.

And so this begs a new question.

If something about us tempts the confidence of others as did my friend, what is the correct Christian response to such a situation?

Perhaps in ten more years, I will come back to that.

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