by Leonard Bishop
I have been criticized for interrupting people what I believe they are describing themselves with an improper use of language. It is annoying, I know. But the language we speak contains both what we mean to say, and statements we should not be saying. What mean to say, is what we are in character. What we actually say is what people presume our character to be. We are constantly misleading and being misled.
Someone will say, “I’m a positive person,” when he means, “I’m rigid and opinionated.” Others will say, “I like to live, and let live,” when they mean, “I’m afraid to get involved.” Many of the people who declare, “I’m easy going and laid back,” should say, “I’m indifferent to people, and lazy.” Often, I am prompted to tell them they are misrepresenting themselves. Thus, I do not develop friendships easily.
Although I am a writer, language is not my idol, or my obsession. It is my method of communication. I try to use it with integrity. At one time, my language was my personal liar. I deluded myself into believing I was someone I was not, merely because I described myself (to myself) imprecisely.
When I claimed, “I stand on what I believe, no matter what,” I should have revealed that no matter how wrong I was, I would not admit it because I was compelled to always be right. To impress naive people I stated that I had great mental dexterity and adroitness of mind. But I was lying. I was a thought-drifter. Without control of his concentration.
The frightening insight into this is that I was not only analyzing myself incorrectly, I was believing my own false analysis. There was no way I could ever live up to what my inexact language persuaded me to believe I was. I was like an apple tree struggling to grow avocados. And what I actually was, as a person, remained unknown.
One year in California, we had used all our money until I finished a novel. But I wasn’t worried. I knew a criminal lawyer loaded with cases. I defined myself as having a keen investigative mind, and an unerring sensitivity for reading people, and I was relentless when searching for facts. He hired me to interview people in a scandalous murder case. “Get them to talk about stuff they don’t know they know, and did not tell the police.” I nodded. No problem. I could talk a starving wolf out of an unguarded hen house.
I was an embarrassing bust. Where I had labeled myself as “persuasive” I was really “intimidating and harassing.” I was not sensitive to others. I was “undeviatingly centered on myself.” While I imagine myself to be “exciting” I was a “genuine dud.” I gave away more information than I got. I had betrayed myself into believing what my misuse of language convinced me to believe.
There is no way that we can know ourselves except through the language we use when reaching a self-estimation. The longer we describe ourselves incorrectly, the longer we remain strangers to ourselves. As people, we are two specific impressions. What we say we are, and what our actions prove us to be.
If we believe ourselves to be “compassionate” and “loving” but all we put out is “pity” and “contempt,” then what are we? If we assume ourselves to be “generous” but actually give only when we are guaranteed to gain more, then we are “crafty opportunists.” And if we apprise ourselves through an improper or misleading use of language, we deceive ourselves into acting unnaturally. We steadily force ourselves into becoming maladjusted, estranged, emotionally imbalanced and alone.
It was when I began teaching professional writing at the University of California in Berkeley, that I was forced into this condition of honest self-examination, through language. What I considered “assertive teaching” was actually “bullying” and “terrorizing.” Students cringed when I came into the classroom. What I felt was my “delightful sense of humor” was really “cutting sarcasm” and “malicious derision” of the students. I thought I was teaching “complex structures.” when I was only “pomping and priding” around a disruptive demonstration of unbridled, nauseating “self-adoration” and “demanding conceit.” I was a jerk.
I had misled myself into believing what I was not–because I did not have the correct language to define what I truly was.
I know people who boast of their ability to reach “snap decisions” and make “instant choices.” They credit themselves as being “decisive.” Yet their personal history has proven that 80% of what they decide or choose is ruinous to their lives. They are not “decisive”, they are “hasty.”
Not allowing yourself to realize what is your actual character, compared to what you assume is your true character, can cause deep unhappiness. Because in the dark of your soul you always wonder, “Who am I?” And you will never really know, nor begin living through your natural character–to become happy–unless you trouble to learn the language that clearly and honestly defines you.
©2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop
(first published April 3, 1988 the Manhattan Mercury)