Aug 18, 2021–When Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes explained why his teams didn’t pass more, he said this: “Three things can happen on a pass play, and two of them are bad.”
That is me in social situations.
I have a tendency to say “the wrong thing.” At least, according to my wife. And children. And siblings. And friends.
Part of me is proud of this. I cannot abide small talk. I don’t care to know how many inches of rain you got or what show you are streaming. If you find someone who enjoys small talk, be assured they don’t want to be there either.
But playing it safe is so… boring. There is always that small person in my brain who is goading me into saying something stupid. Asking that embarrassing question. Digging down to figure out why that person feels the way they do about a subject.
Anything to elicit a reaction.
It’s not out of meanness. I am Iowa polite to a fault. But that part of me is always looking for something interesting or new to happen. It is a technique that works well when conducting an interview.
Most people carry a script in our heads. It manifests when we are speaking on behalf an organization we represent. When I was being interviewed by a San Antonio TV station about an incident at our school district, my mind was frantically attempting to be accurate, interesting, and to not say anything that would upset the superintendent. In that cauldron, “interesting” is the first option tossed aside. Career politicians get training in that, which is why TV interviews with practiced politicians are never edifying.
But when I am the one conducting the interview, it is my job to nudge the interviewee into the realm of “interesting.” It has become automatic. The result is always a more interesting story. I prefer to write using their own words as much as possible, because most people have a fresh way of saying what we’ve heard over and over.
The reason I can get away with it is that I am not an investigative reporter. My goal as a columnist is always to keep the reader interested. I am not doing “gotcha” journalism. I’ve been on that side, and it is not fun. Nor really helpful. All that happens is the person you are talking with throws up more barriers.
But this technique is not appreciated by everyone. So whenever I leave any large public gathering, I immediately begin replaying snippets of my conversations, grimacing when I recalled something that may have sounded rude, or sophomoric, or self aggrandizing.
But now, after a year of isolation, I’m beginning to think, so what?
I’m not going to live life with self-imposed filters screening every single interaction.
And for every dirt clod you chunk, there is always that golden nugget that you wouldn’t have mined if you hadn’t been just little bit, well, rude.