Social Dissonance

It’s the opposite of being on the same wavelength… it’s what happens whenever you say something that doesn’t come across exactly how you meant it.

It’s being more aware and critical of the structure of a conversation than its content.

It’s feeling the sharp edges of contrast between how you think you’re expected to communicate and your actual natural flow of thought. For some, these edges are like anchors and reference points that can be used to organize thoughts and navigate a conversation; for others, these edges are abrasive validations of social ineptitude.

I like to see social interaction as trying to cast some lines of rope from one mind across a bottomless pit to another and sending ideas back and forth using words like winches. Our minds can’t occupy the same brain, but we can throw words or gestures or any form of expression out of our minds and into reality and hope that the other person catches the other end of the line to anchor it in common context.

Sometimes the gap is small and casting the line is easy… so easy it might be difficult to resist, like being in a public place and hearing someone mention something that you’re very passionate about, knowing that you already have common context. So why wouldn’t you try?

For some, social dissonance is always just an opportunity to experiment with modes of interaction. For those who internalized a reality of being simply unable to communicate effectively with the vast majority of people around them, the aversion to or even fear of social dissonance is a survival mechanism. Two people may already share common context simply by being in the same classroom, meeting, or any gathering of people, but terrified of casting lines of hope into the abyss.

It’s that feeling of having something awesomely pertinent to say in a conversation, but not wanting to interrupt anyone, never finding the space to say it, and then being fiercely aware of the decision that the opportune moment has passed forever.

It’s being acutely aware that you don’t know how to respond, but still feeling the need to say something that communicates what you’re feeling/thinking without incurring more dissonance.

It’s confusion about the other person’s silence when you expect a response, and whether or not it’s your fault.

It’s wondering if the other person is conversing with you due to some sense of social charity or because they are actually enjoying the conversation.

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