Being challenged made me rethink my ideas and question my upbringing.

From a young age I’ve always been verbally economical. Only speaking when solicited, nodding gently in agreement, deciding silently whether or not I agreed with everyone else’s opinions and mostly keeping mine to myself. My quietude and politeness have been greatly mistaken with shyness. Mari is very shy, has been repeated countless times. Perhaps it’s cultural, maybe partially a pretty mild case of agoraphobia, or maybe it’s just that by speaking too much my other senses would be too affected, to the point of losing touch with my surroundings — and I’ve always been awfully scared of making a fool of myself, so keeping my mouth shut has been effective ever since I can remember. I think the wits, which don’t run in the family, run in my blood because of my keen sense of observation — which in turn doesn’t run in the family either. My shyness, however, is a subject I shall tackle in the future.

I was born into a half-Italian and half-Portuguese family. My father’s being the Portuguese side, the side that talks about trivialities, family, work and whatnots. On that side of the family we all know who supports which football team but nobody argues. We know everyone’s political views, but we don’t talk about them. We respect each other’s individualities, but we do not discuss boundaries. Some people are married, some are single. The married ones don’t talk about their married life or how their kids are doing in school, and the single ones aren’t questioned about why they’re still single. While I find not talking about people’s lives a good thing, not talking about anything at all — apart from very superfluous matters — is extremely alienating. It feels that it’s not much a lack of interest as it is a way to keep disappointment at bay. The more you know about failed marriages, homosexual family members, unsuccessful careers, the more prone to heartbreaking you are. Realizing life around you isn’t entirely perfect hurts and so one surrounds oneself with subterfuge.

Now there’s the Italian side of the family, my mother’s side. The loud side. The side that every single member talks at the same time and nobody understands one another. From a young age, I learned a few universal truths: indigenous people are lazy, some black people are so nice they don’t even look black, don’t talk to strangers, Corinthians supporters are all former inmates and, obviously, we don’t talk about politics. Believe me, those were proclaimed by my grandfather and grandmother over and over again. I never did ask where they took all that from, but rather accepted it quietly. I support Corinthians (a football team), but never did have the energy to argue the fact that I’m not a former inmate myself. I’ve been friends with black people all my life, but never debated my grandfather’s theory. I’ve never met a single indigenous person but for some reason I took in the fact that they were all lazy without questioning where that idea had been born. My grandfather’s been a philander all his life, and at sixty-something he finally left my grandmother for someone about twenty years younger. He’s the biggest moralist I’ve ever known and yet has no morals or values himself. Although all that is talked about, loud voices only echo louder. I’ve always just kept to myself, my thoughts and my own conclusions. To think that perhaps this half of my family is what a generic Brazilian family is like, to think that this communication gap, handicap even, is normal is saddening to say the least. I know that now. There is little connection between myself and my family and it pains me to know that, to feel that.

There’s an excerpt from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina that always comes to mind when I think about my own upbringing.

[Stepan Arkadyevitch] had not chosen his political opinions or his views; these political opinions and views had come to him of themselves, just as he did not choose the shapes of his hat and coat, but simply took those that were being worn. And for him, living in a certain society — owing to the need, ordinarily developed at years of discretion, for some degree of mental activity — to have views was just as indispensable as to have a hat.

Only about seven years ago I had my first quarrel with a person because of what my status quo thought was on a certain topic. She couldn’t believe someone could think about those very crucial matters so simplistically, and I on the other hand was offended because she was disrespecting my opinions. What was happening there was the first time I actually had to think about what I’d been doing all my life. Keeping quiet had kept me in a very comfortable place, where I could think about all the most serious matters, but didn’t need to express my thoughts out loud. I had time for sarcasm and reflection all but for myself. How dare her take me out of that cozy little corner where my opinion only mattered to myself! I was being forced to face my own communication handicap. I was, for the first time, grasping what communication really consisted of. And being put to shame. My depraved opinions, those engraved in my brain after years hearing my immoral grandfather yelling his ideas, were being utterly exposed and it made me feel ugly and useless. I had to think outside of my brain for the first time and it was the hardest thing to do. My economical demeanor was good for nothing at that point. There was no mincing words, as I’d learned from my half-Portuguese family; no place for reckless ideas, as the ones frequently spoken aloud in my half-Italian family. I was flustered, angry, elated, ashamed… Such a crazy concoction of feelings (and had just fallen madly in love with my charming challenger — but that’s another story!). And just like that I learned that I should think before speaking, especially where other people and their feelings and ideals are concerned. I learned how to confront my family whenever I’d hear their ridiculous, careless ideas. I learned to debate healthily. I learned to communicate decently. I learned about so much more and deeper.

Learning how to transform my thoughts into words birthed me to an entire different world. I see the difference in how I communicate reflected in the expressions of the people I talk to. I see how communication is in fact connection made through a number of smaller channels. It is in the way I handle myself, the way I speak, the volume of my voice, how I look at people in the eye while I speak, how I acknowledge their opposing ideas, but that it doesn’t mean I agree with them. It is showing people that they are entitled to their ideas, but only after having carefully considered all the other scenarios. Encouraging them to do the same is life-changing. That alone gives people food for thought, and a fair chance for them to work on their communication as well. Having a view on things cannot be like having a hat, like it’s there because it has to be. Views must be purposeful and unbiased.

Thoughtlessness has no place in conversations. I tell myself that every day.