Monday, May 9, 2011

Don't Treat Your Friends Like Rubberducks

You probably already know I'm a fan of a certain practice called rubberducking, in which one takes an inanimate object, like a rubberduck, and talk to it. I've used this practice for two purposes: 1.) To help me introspect on something by stimulating my brain through talking, and 2.) clearing up stress by venting through the talking. This practice has been extremely helpful for both purposes, and I continue to do it today, though mostly in my car since my current housing doesn't have sound-resistant walls.

Lately I've been thinking about why some people become so intensely fond of me, and have related it to the issue of rubberducking. While I recognize that I do have lovable qualities, these qualities aren't much on display to the average associate I come across, and at present I tend to be an overall quiet guy, so it confused me as to why some people become so fond of me when my characteristics aren't on display enough for them to know and love. Sometimes all I have to do is merely be consistently on the listening end of some guy's talking, and the next thing I know he becomes attached to my company. This has happened consistently to me in the past also.

It's kind of insulting to say it this way, but simply put: I've been used like a rubberduck. Given my quiet deposition I have given a vent for these people to satisfy themselves through talking or expressing their thoughts, even on IM, and they have taken this satisfaction as an actual fondness of me. While it's nice to think I could offer them such satisfaction, there's problems people should be aware of in conducting friendships like this, problems which have in fact led to me becoming unattached and dissolving friendships that were conducted that way in the past.

Primarily, this type of practice makes friendships one-sided. Only one person is expressing himself while the other passively absorbs, so while the listener may temporarily be satisfied by being trusted with the information he's listening to he'll soon find that the value may be going only in one direction. I know that when I was in such friendships that the other person tended to terribly self-centered (which I distinguish from actual rational selfishness, which I endorse*) and wouldn't return the same willingness to listen that I offered them. As soon as the topic went onto something regarding myself and my own life they would become disinterested and distracted with other things, sometimes going so far as to just give me one-word answers or irrelevant responses. These friendships ended up suffocating since I realized that while they enjoyed my company, it was only my willingness to listen that they valued, not the important aspects of my character, so separating from them didn't leave me missing them at all. The friendships weren't really friendships: The person was just rubberducking with a live human.

(*My distinguishment between selfishness and self-centeredness is that self-centeredness entails a person being overly concerned with things in reference to himself. For instance, a selfish person would be interested in listening to their friend since learning more about them and making them happy is a selfish value, but a self-centered person would be entirely disinterested in listening once the topic is no longer about then. Dan Edge wrote a good essay on it, but I can't find it.)

I don't think I've ever been caught in this situation, but it may be why some guys get stuck in the friend zone when associating with a female they're interested in. The female values that the guy is willing to listen to them vent and deal with their problems, but they don't seek to learn his character enough that they actually come to value him for the person he is, thereby keeping him stuck in his friendship -- or rubberduck -- role.

Healthy friendships trade value for value. Friends spend time both talking to and listening to one another with full conscious attention, and most importantly they identify each other's character and sustain the friendship for the deep value they find in dealing with people with desirable spiritual characteristics. Those are the fulfilling relationships that make life worth living.

So in assessing your friendships, it may be valuable to pay attention to the balance of talking versus listening that goes on between you and the other person, for you may find that the other people doesn't really value you as a person at all: You just might be a rubberduck.


  1. Fitzgerald, Great Gatsby (the narrator). Perhaps, as such, a sounding board (rubberduck?). But, IMHO, that comparison would make a better argument for a Lit paper than a reference to the current Muser-Aloud.
    Just sayin'.


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