Doing My Best Clarence Thomas Impression, Again

Last year I wrote about how Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made the headlines the previous week when he asked a lawyer a couple of questions during oral arguments about a gun ownership case.

The reason it was such a big deal is because for the past 10 years Thomas had maintained a strange and often-criticized code of silence. In 2013, he briefly interrupted Justice Antonin Scalia with four words that were intended to be a joke. But the last time he asked a question was Feb. 22, 2006.

I then related Justice Thomas’ behavior with my own when I go to get my hair cut. As much as I’d like to have a conversation with the person cutting my hair, I usually find it difficult to do so. And when I look around the shop and it seems as if everyone else is engaged in small talk with their barber or stylist, it just makes me feel worse.

In that post from last year, I kind of blamed my silence on my awkward teenage years, during which I guess I never learned the art of small talk.

Well I just realized that my Clarence Thomas behavior is not just limited to barbershops and hair salons.

I’ve noticed at many meetings for the past couple of years, for work or otherwise, I often go the entire meeting without saying a word.

And I’m not really sure what the reason is for such behavior.

Sometimes I think what I would have to say is too obvious, so what’s the point.

Sometimes I think what other people have to say is too obvious or off target or they just want to hear themselves talk, and rather than saying so, I just stay mum.

Sometimes I’m just sitting there waiting for the meeting to be over, realizing that if I say something, it will extend the meeting that much longer.

And sometimes, at least over the past year, I sit there doing calculus problems in my head (unsuccessfully, I might add).

I’m not sure if anyone at these meetings notices my behavior, and if they do, I often wonder what they might be thinking.

Do they think I have nothing meaningful to add to the discussion? (they would be correct in that assessment)

Do they think I don’t care about the discussion taking place? (no comment)

Are they silently thanking me for my silence?

Do they even realize I’m at the meeting?

I think that my behavior in both situations, getting my hair cut and attending meetings, is probably linked to my introverted nature, and many times to a lack of confidence.

I’m much more comfortable in intimate settings, dinner with one other couple, for example, as opposed to big parties.

I’d much rather have deeper, one-on-one conversations with someone, than have a superficial conversation with a group of people.

And maybe there’s a way to do both; to have an engaging conversation with a group of people or in a group setting, but I haven’t figured out how to do so.

I’m OK with my silence, and at this stage of my life and career, I don’t see my behavior changing. If I were just starting out in my career, I think I would force myself to be a bit more loquacious. You know, that whole “fake it ’til you make it” approach.

But for now, I”ll continue to regard Clarence Thomas as a role model in terms of my behavior at meetings.

And who knows, after a while, I may just stop being invited to meetings.

Any my master plan would have worked to perfection…

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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