Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In Defense of Being Cryptic

Dear Colby Writing Professors,

I have good communication skills. I had them all along. I was never someone who needed to "learn" to communicate clearly. I wasn't being unclear because I didn't know how to be clear. I was being cryptic for a reason. I was being cryptic because every time I did communicate clearly outside of writing class, I was invalidated. Every time I said, "I feel X about Y" I was told that Y wasn't a big enough thing to feel X about. This literally happened almost every time I shared how I felt. Good communication is effective communication, and since no one listened to me when I spoke openly and honestly, I learned that open and honest communication wouldn't get me anywhere. Not at Colby, and not at home with my friends who couldn't accept that Colby was unacceptable to me. So I learned to communicate in a different way.

Crypticism has several benefits:

1. No one can invalidate your feelings when they don't know what you're talking about. It's kind of hard to say, "It's not that bad" when you don't know what the "it" is. Okay, people did still invalidate me when I talked about my feelings in a cryptic way, but I had the defense of "You don't get it!" when those people literally did not know what I felt so bad about. And that's less bad than being invalidated when someone knows the full story. I KNEW that I would be told that X wasn't bad enough to feel Y about, so I just talked about Y without mentioning X. (And this was NOT my imagination - whenever I did bring up X, it was exactly as I predicted, or worse.)

2. When you say something in a cryptic way, you limit your audience to the people who care enough about you to ask what's really going on. You are throwing something very emotional out there and hoping to connect with people, but you're less likely to get hurt when you require that extra step of asking what you really mean, because people aren't likely to do that extra work just to be a jerk to you.  

3. Crypticism allows you to say what you want to say and not get in trouble. I was almost kicked out of school for a threat message I posted on Facebook, so I couldn't exactly write, "I want to burn down the school and everyone in it" in a poem. You KNEW this because I told you about it during office hours, I explained in clear English why I was literally not safe expressing myself in class, but you still kept talking to me about clarity as if I hadn't even noticed that I was trying to hide something.

4. Crypticism is often a more effective way to communicate. Lots of people have a very hard time understanding things that they don't relate to. Putting yourself in someone else's shoes doesn't help because we are all different and something that's not a problem for you may be a crisis for someone else. When people can't accept what I'm telling them, I try to come up with a metaphor they can relate to that's more neutral, something that most people would agree on. I may be cryptic in terms of saying what's wrong for me, but I'm more effective at communicating the problem to people who can't relate.

I know crypticism isn't some fancy official literary style, but it certainly has its uses, and I was certainly using in on purpose. Imagine you have a campus where it's very common for someone to jump out of the bushes and attack you, so you learn to be on guard for that. Then someone sits down and tells you that you're wasting so much of your energy being on-guard, and wouldn't it be nice if you could just walk along peacefully and enjoy nature and get lost in your thoughts? They say this to you while doing NOTHING to try to stop the attacks, as if it never occurred to you that you'd be happier being able to walk in peace.

Even you, my writing professors, promoted Colby ideals as universal truths. The tangents you got on in class - about how everyone loves learning, how we should have more intellectual conversations, how it sucks to go home where everyone just talks about nothing (the assumption being that none of us could possibly MISS talking about nothing or fit in more at home than at Colby) - just reminded me of how alone and isolated I was at Colby, and that I shouldn't expect anyone in class to care about my issues. You invalidated me when I shared personal things with you during your office hours - you gave me the "You can't possibly feel X just over Y!" that everyone else gave me. You told me not be cryptic, yet you contributed to the environment in which I needed to be cryptic. You told me to love the reader, but how could I do that when my writing was MEANT to attack the people reading it? I couldn't "identify the 'you'" in the poem because I was referring to YOU and everyone else in class! You described me as screaming without words, which was correct on your part, but I wasn't without words. I had plenty of words. But whenever I shared those words, no one heard the screaming.

This isn't just for my writing professors - this is for EVERYONE out there who thinks that just being yourself and communicating openly and honestly will solve all your problems. Everyone who refuses to acknowledge that YOU might be the reason that someone else is being cryptic.

I'm not encouraging you to be cryptic. If you're in an environment where you can express yourself clearly, that's awesome. But just know that people have reasons for sounding defensive and being cryptic. If you wish people would just say what they mean, try to BE someone that they can say it to.   

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