WIF: Social Graces

Reflecting on my conversation with my colleague, I decided that, before my next play shift , I would spend some time developing the social graces customary on this planet

Where I’m from, we have no need for social graces, for we are connected telepathically and empathically. What one thinks, we all know. What one feels, we all feel. When thoughts and feelings are transparent, social niceties become unnecessary. We are authentic always and nothing is hidden. That love is our universal language makes social harmony the fabric of our community.

Here, I understand, that is not the case.

I decided to begin practicing my social skills with a child. The young of a species often have not yet fully assumed the worldview of their culture, so they tend to approach new experiences with an open mind.

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I approached her without my disguise.

“You look different,” she said.

“Indeed!” I replied. “I am different! I’m not from around here. But look. I am the same, too. Two arms. Two legs, one mouth, two eyes, two hearts–”

“We only have one heart,” she said.

“Oh, that is correct,” I remembered. “One sun, one heart. Whereas we have two suns, two hearts.”

“You better wear your disguise if you’re gonna go around meeting people,” she said. “Not everybody likes different.”

By the time she left, we were friends, for she had many questions about what it is like to have two hearts and to come from a planet with two suns.

I took her advice when I met the next person walking through our neighborhood, and I wore my disguise.

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“Greetings!” I said. And he did not seem to know that I was an alien.

We talked for a few moments.

“Of course you feel unsettled right now,” I said to him, after quickly analyzing his personality and tuning into his feelings. “It is a difficult complex of traits that you possess. It cannot be easy to be an ambitious slob and a glutton.”

He looked at me askance and I saw that he had deduced my alien identity beneath my disguise.

“What betrayed my disguise?” I asked. “I am attempting to learn social graces, so that I don’t offend.”

He muttered something about “what’s personal’s meant to be, you know, personal,” and stormed off.

Where I come from, we know each other’s traits, and that knowledge forms the basis of our understanding and compassion. When we know all about each other, there is no reason to feel defensive or to try to hide. An open personality has nothing to hide. We none of us pretend perfection, and we delight in sharing folly and foible with amusement and affection.

I am learning that it is not so here.

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Before heading to the Science Lab, I spent some time considering a possible response to the robot’s next flirtatious comment. The robot had called me a “little guava,” which is a fruit that is purple on the inside. So it was a comment about something I resembled, a little purple fruit. What did the robot resemble? Certainly not a fruit. Perhaps a cute household appliance? I browsed the web on my phone. I found a very cute Good Grips Locking Can Opener. It resembled my robot friend around the face area. I pondered for a moment or two and then I had my portion of the repartee.

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“Sweet little plum,” said the robot when I greeted it at the lab that morning.

I was taken by surprise for a moment. I am no longer a guava. Is it still a flirtatious comment to be called a plum?

The robot winked.

I tried unsuccessfully to wink these compound eyes, and I took my robot’s wink as a signal of its flirtatious intentions.

“Thank you,” I said. “You remind me of a cute can opener I found while conducting research on the world wide web. It is called Good Grips, which is what you also possess, do you not? It is designed for easy opening with minimal spillage.”

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I blushed a deeper purple at my own forwardness. Was I perhaps being too risque?

The robot giggled and ducked its head. I could feel the robot’s emotions: bashfulness, affection, pleasure, and a small amount of pride.

“Can you feel my emotions?” I asked.

“No motion. Stillness. Shut off,” said the robot.

“No, my friend, not motion. Emotion. Do you know what that is? That is what we call your feelings and your moods.”

“No mods. No CC. Vanilla. Out of box. Plum. Sweet.” And again, my robot bent its head.

I began to comprehend that the robot had not been programmed to have emotions and had no tools for comprehending these emotions that it so clearly felt. I would not push this robot where it was unprepared to go. I smiled, bid the robot good day, and left it to its winks and nods.

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I decided it was time for me to get to know my fellow colleagues. One of them was distinctively angry. I empathized with her to reduce the anger’s intensity.

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When she felt my compassion, she forgave me for being an alien and shared a small amount of reciprocated affection with me.

Another colleague joined us, along with Eric, whom I had met the day before. She was not pleased at all that an alien had been hired at this lab when so many who were native to this planet wanted employment.

She had an excellent point. I offered to give up my position, yet that seemed to make her even angrier, as illogical as that response may be.

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Later in the day, I approached her anew.

“I am very unfamiliar with your customs,” I said. “Where I’m from, we interact very differently, and here, I am often finding myself at a disadvantage in social situations.”

She smiled then, and I felt from her a wave of compassion, pity, and understanding. I began to understand that she values the one who is at a disadvantage. Seeing me in that position created in her a sense of benevolence, and from that moment on, Charlotte became a friend to me.

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At the microscope, I had noticed a colleague with a unique ability to focus. It is a capacity which I recognize, one that comes from enhanced brain development. I recognized a fellow alien instantly beneath her flawless disguise.

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We reciprocated our secret handshake.

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“I am delighted and in all actuality thrilled to meet another who is not from around here!” I said.

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She began to yell at me instantly. “Just because we are both aliens, don’t go thinking that I’m going to have your little alien spawn! I may have been sent here to breed, but I have not been sent here to breed with YOU, with little purple YOU from YOU-KNOW-WHERE, Ms. La-La-Land!”

She is, of course, not from where I’m from. Where she is from, the inhabitants do not much care for our ways and temperaments. Though we both possess the loner trait, she, and most of those from where she is from, possess also a meanness which brings them tremendous glee when they find opportunity to communicate harshly.

While I gain some comfort from our shared experience of being foreigners in a strange land, I do not know how pleasurable I will find her company.

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Towards the end of the day, I conversed once more with a few colleagues before they departed for their various homes. I am learning that here, one does not say all that one knows about another. A fiction called “personal privacy” is maintained which gives the illusion of separateness, and it is this illusion on which the dwellers of this planet seem to rely in order to protect what it is that they refer to as “personal boundaries” and “personal space.”

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It is still not clear to me. If I know their thoughts, feel their emotions, understand their traits, what is the purpose of pretending ignorance? What is the reason for pretending separateness when we are all inextricably connected by virtue of our shared existence?

I have many mysteries still to understand.

Perhaps with these beings it is the same as with my robot friend: it is best not to push them where they are not programmed to go.

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