I was an exceptionally intelligent child, but socially I was completely out-of-touch. This wasn’t so much a problem when I was younger, as there were more accommodations for a precocious kindergartener who could read the novels of Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott. When you’re in kindergarten, it’s cute—and sort of a neat parlor trick.
But when you reach adolescence, being exceptionally socially-awkward is a nightmare.
A turning-point came when, at the age of 13, I saw a therapist. He had pointed out several things about the way I socially interacted that I was completely unaware of (and even unaware of the importance of):
- I didn’t make eye-contact when I spoke to someone.
- I didn’t make conversation when I spoke to someone, instead rattling off obscure trivia I was personally interested in or only answering direct questions.
- I didn’t listen to the other person speaking to me, or properly react to social cues.
Point being: my inability to be social was not simply a matter of being obstinate, selfish, or shy. I plain did not know how to do it. It did not feel like part of my DNA.
Even at 13, this realization kind of horrified me. Once it was made clear to me how I was acting in social situations, I was completely aghast. Because the way I acted felt completely normal to me. And it was apparently not considered normal at all.
It was then that I decided to tackle this problem the way I did with everything else: reading books. I began to seek out and read books on psychology and self-help. I read Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People. I read books on the art of conversation. I had to break down and analyze what a conversation even was—I drew “charts” of this! I read as much as I possibly could, quickly graduating from the children’s to adult section of the library.
I was going to learn how to be human.
But I soon found out that it wasn’t enough to just learn the technical “art” of it—I had to reach into the core of what made human interaction tick. I had to fully appreciate the idea of empathy, for example. It wasn’t enough to just learn to listen to a person, but I had to make an actual connection with them.
And so I moved on from psychology and self-help to books that were more spiritual in nature—or even blendings of all three types.
And so I read the works of Wayne Dyer, Shakti Gawain, Louise Hay, M. Scott Peck, Anthony Robbins, Norman Vincent Peale, Deepak Chopra, and Joseph Campbell. I read older classics by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Lao-Tsu—as well as the Bible.
And bit by bit, slowly putting what I learned into practice, I was able to hold conversations, to listen to people, to be social to a reasonable degree. It was a process that took a little over 25 years to get right (and I’m still learning!).
Now, I get complimented all the time for how good and intent a listener I am. In fact, I occasionally get paid to listen to people, absorb what they have to say, and give them advice and encouragement. It is something I absolutely love to do.
But do I feel 100% “human” now? Not really. But you do what you can with what you have.