I've always revered people who are good on the fly. The ability to form thoughts – much less words - on the spot seems like a super power to me.
As an introvert, I need time to know what I think about things. Introverts are my people, and my people are really good 36 hours after an argument. Or after the brainstorming session is over. Or after the handsome man leaves the room. We are great at discussing all of the brilliant things we did not say. This is where I excel as a person.
In my twenties, I supplemented my lack of natural ability to talk to humans by observing, almost scientifically, good conversationalists. I noted the questions they asked to forward conversation, the phrases they used and reused, the jokes they made.
I kept a sort of file cabinet in my mind. And whenever a prolonged silence bade me to speak, I would pull out a file. I also read a lot of classic literature - not simply because I enjoyed it (which I did), but because it was reference material. I wanted to understand every Shakespearean and Biblical allusion, and be able to drop a few well-placed ones myself.
I thought that wit, humor, and intelligence reigned supreme in conversation. Even now, not much delights me more than a good pun.
Not much…except kindness.
I am coming to understand, slowly, that being smart might help me; but being kind helps the person across the table.
I think that we miss opportunities to be kind when we try too hard to be smart, or funny, or adored. And isn’t that a shame? Missing opportunities to be kind?
Listen: I still adore wit and silliness. Portmanteaus (portmanteaux?) are the way to my heart (along, of course, with kittens). And as Anne Lamott says, laughter is carbonated holiness.
But when people walk away from an interaction with me, I care less and less whether they think I’m smart. I care deeply that they feel they matter.
To be honest, I want it all. But when there arises an instance in which I can’t be both witty and kind, I always want to err on the side of kind.