Interruptions

So much for blogging once a week while writing my first draft. I’ve neglected this blog in recent weeks—I hate to think how many—but I’m getting close to the end of the first draft (but not the book). Anyway, I thought I’d share something that happened at church a few weeks ago.

My husband and I were in Sunday school, and a bit of discussion had stirred among us. (I don’t remember the topic; it’s not relevant.) Several men had comments, then a young woman sitting in front of me started to speak. The teacher interrupted and talked over her, almost as if he hadn’t heard her voice.

Even though she was in the front row.

Even though she was less than two feet from him.

Even though her voice is not particularly soft, and she isn’t shy about speaking publicly.

He simply acted as if he hadn’t heard her and it was time for him to begin teaching again.

I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt: maybe he truly didn’t hear her. Maybe he was unaware of the message this sent. Maybe he just had a mental blip and opened his mouth and started teaching. Who knows? There’s no point in attributing hostile motivations to everyone who does something I don’t like.

But still.

I fumed. I know that feeling of being interrupted, and it’s not pleasant. I didn’t know if she felt the same way, but in a way, her feelings (and mine) were irrelevant. The act of interrupting was important. No matter where or when or how it happens, this act sends a message to everyone,  whether they’re conscious of it or not.

 My words need to be heard more than yours.

It creates an imbalance of power, where the interrupter has power and the interrupted does not.

Parents teach children not to interrupt adults while they’re talking. Why? Because it’s rude and disrespectful. (The exception to the no-interrupting rule is an emergency: blood, fire, broken bones, alien invasions, and the like.)

So I fumed.

Long ago, I read an article about how to respond to men interrupting women, whether that’s in the workplace, in the classroom, or other situations. One nugget of advice stuck in my head: If you, male or female, hear a man interrupt a woman, stand up for her.

It doesn’t have to be confrontational, abrasive, disrespectful, or rude. (Those attitudes are counterproductive, in my opinion, and ignore the underlying need for respect in human relationships.)  It can be pointed or subtle. But do it.

I waited for the teacher to pause for breath, then leaned forward. “So, what were you going to say? You were going to add something earlier, weren’t you?”

“Oh,” she responded, “I was going to say . . .” And her comment was as perceptive and pertinent to the discussion as any of the comments from the previous male speakers.

The discussion went on. My husband squeezed my knee. Good work, he was saying. Good work.

We’ve discussed this incident since then, my husband and I, and he asked me an interesting question. “Would you have been equally as bothered if a woman had interrupted a man? Would you have noticed?”

I considered that. I would have noticed; it would’ve been out of the ordinary (in our church, certainly!) and I would’ve noticed.

I would have been bothered. Would I have been equally bothered?

If I consider it only from a sociological, big-picture point of view, probably not; it doesn’t reinforce the male dominance that’s been entrenched in our culture for too long.

But if I consider the interruption from a personal perspective, I am equally disturbed. Disrespect is wrong, no matter who is doing the disrespecting or who is being disrespected.

And it might be personally devastating for certain men, particularly those who are otherwise unvalued by society; those who have been silenced by life circumstances and shamed by others in power; those who are simply shy people, afraid of speaking in public. I know men like this. An interruption of their words has the potential to be devastating to their minds and hearts.

Women need to be careful not to crush a man’s words, just like men need to be careful not to crush a woman’s words.

And if you say, “Oh, but men have been dominant for so long that now it’s OUR turn!” I have to wonder if you want equality or dominance. Replacing one form of oppression with another isn’t right, and it’s not a healthy attitude.

True equality means taking the bad with the good: taking responsibility for mistakes or wrong doings (and not blaming someone else); listening when others speak (even if you hate what they’re saying); and respecting other people (even when you’d rather flatten them with a steamroller).  It’s called treating others as you’d like to be treated. It’s one reason I didn’t interrupt the teacher to point out his previous interruption. There might be a time for doing that, but this wasn’t it.

All that to say: if you hear someone—female or male—interrupted, please stand up for that person. Everyone is valuable. Let’s be willing to listen to the words of both genders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “Interruptions

  1. All things being equal, I’d be more upset by a man interrupting a woman than a woman a man under identical circumstances. Go to the extremes of rudeness, though, and I’d be an equal opportunity fumer.

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    1. I’ve seen the man interrupting the woman more than the woman interrupting the man, so for me, it’s the natural thing to be upset about. I’ve just known a lot of men who were silently suffering shame and they got interrupted a lot by both genders, so I felt the need to point this issue out!

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  2. This is well said and important. I confess, though, that I have struggled all my life with interrupting others when I talk, something which God is constantly challenging me to work on in the slow call to consider one another (and their words) more important than my own.

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    1. That’s interesting that you mentioned your issue with interrupting others; the entire time my husband and I were having this conversation, I kept interrupting him! And apologizing for it, five seconds afterward. 🙂

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  3. Great to hear from you, Laura! This is a wonderful perspective and I think may apply to not just to interrupting, but also to dominating conversations. The Bible studies that I have been a part of almost always have the same people sharing their opinions over and over. The quieter ones sit and listen while two or three talk. I find that the quieter people usually have great insight. I have been trying to figure out a way of politely pointing this out. I think what you did asking the woman that was interrupted what she wanted to say was a great way to do it and I plan to start asking some of the quieter people what they think from now on.

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    1. Great point, Denise. I think it must be hard for talkative people to handle the silence that is needed for the quiet people to gather their thoughts and speak up. I hope you’ll tell us what happens when you ask the quieter ones what their thoughts are. 🙂

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  4. I appreciate this reflection, Laura, and I particularly appreciate that you took steps to ensure that the woman got heard in the end. I don’t know if men are more likely to interrupt women than the reverse, or if men interrupt more than women do … it may depend on the setting. But you’re right, it sends the message that the interrupter’s words/ideas matter more than the other person’s. Also in some groups I find that as an introvert I can’t get a word in edgewise because the more talkative people, those who process their thoughts externally rather than internally, dominate the conversation. If a question’s asked, the more talkative people always answer first, rather than waiting a few moments to see if the quieter people might want to speak up. Really frustrating. But being actually interrupted when I’m speaking — that’s the worst! I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they don’t intend to be rude, but it bugs me A LOT.

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    1. Overall, I think men do tend to interrupt women more than vice versa, but that may be because many are in positions of “power”, whether they think of themselves as powerful or not. And powerful people are naturally tempted to run over the unpowerful people’s opinions; I’d be tempted, too! I wonder if extroverts tend to be considered more powerful than introverts in our culture, or if they’re just uncomfortable with the silence that introverts need to process their thoughts and thus try to fill the silence (even if they have nothing to say!)

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  5. Yes, both genders and may I add all generations…far too often I see little ones (or older adults) being rudely cut off…..figured you were busy writing away and working…nice to “hear from you”…. 🙂

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    1. Great point about how all generations need to be heard, Lucie. I’ve seen older adults being marginalized and their opinions disregarded (and all their wisdom!), and I’ve seen little ones being treated rudely as well. A person is a person, no matter how small or old. 🙂

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  6. I’d be equally bothered because, unfortunately, I have experienced such an abuse of power that anyone who is slighted gets on my radar regardless of gender. But I totally get your point and others’ comments. But the question is, would you be equally bothered? Thank you for this piece.

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    1. Nancy, I’m sorry that you’ve experienced the abuse of powerful people. But I’m thankful that this horrible, negative thing has given you a heart that is tender toward those who are hurt, slighted, and vulnerable. I try to be sensitive toward others, though I’m not always comfortable (or ever comfortable) with confronting those who are abusing their power; it’s easier for me to sit back and analyze the power dynamics in a group of people than to do something to bring about equality for everyone. I’m trying to change that about myself, but it isn’t easy.

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