It’s funny what lies just beneath the surface, simmering, bubbling, brewing ever so quietly waiting to make an appearance until the timing is just right. It’s funny what you’ll hear if you listen. It’s interesting to me how, by simply talking a lot, people assume you don’t listen well. Distraction. Deflection. Diversion. All tactics people use to throw you off your game, win you over, convince you that the reality they’re showing you is the reality they truly are but no, don’t believe that. That’s not it. That’s not truth. Trust your gut. That is where the truth lies.

Your gut won’t lie to you. You just need to learn to listen and decipher the difference between self-doubt, insecurity, and fear from the trueness that comes with self-awareness of the good and the bad, and knowing the difference between what your gut is telling you and what you think you see in front of your very eyes.

Perception is everything – but is it really?

I just finished rewatching The Hunger Games in all its brilliance. I identify with Katniss Everdeen in much the same way I relate to Joan of Arc, and so many other defiant women in history. Not just women – individuals who couldn’t be silenced. Who didn’t do what they were told. Who didn’t listen to what people pretended to be, even when they’d look them in the eye telling their lies. You see, that’s because so often the people telling you who they really are, are so busy telling you because they have to do that to keep the lie alive to themselves. They are lying to themselves, after all.

Change doesn’t come from outside forces. Saying you stopped saying “that word” because I disapprove is like a child saying I’m sorry only because they got caught. Saying I changed because I didn’t realize how I spoke / acted / behaved was derogatory / closed-minded / petty / insecure – now that is something I will always respect.

Respect is earned, not won. You don’t win respect out of fear. That’s simply cowardice hiding behind intimidation to make the coward appear stronger to their foes. That’s not respect – not even close. Respect comes from calm confidence, security, knowledge, and trust. Confidence in your ability to choose between right and wrong beyond “what you were told” or “how you grew up” but rather is based on real world experiences, skills, conversations, and firsthand knowledge. Security in knowing that your word is your bond, your truth is the same inside and out (and never based on what makes you look better to others), and that discomfort is simply the opportunity to learn and grow and something to be explored, not ignored. Through all of those things comes knowledge, and through that with all the rest is where you will find trust.

Trust in yourself first and foremost, then trust in those around you, and even trust in your enemies because when you know people and understand people you will learn that everyone – even the liar – wants to be trusted. And if you truly listen, you’ll realize that even the liar will tell you who they really are. Not everyone uses words. Actions speak volumes too. So do facial expressions, inaction, indecisiveness, excuses, and even petty repetitive behaviors.

Listen. Just listen.

Everyone will always tell you their truth if you listen. Take President Snow, for example. He was many things, but he was not a liar and it was his own truths that allowed Katniss to trust his actions and reactions, and understand the difference between him and President Coin, even at times understanding she could also trust his words. What truths are those around you telling you?

I’m not just talking about the whispers you hear when you show up alone at the bar for the first time in a few months, or the stories told to/for/about/around you. No, I’m not concerned with the petty gossip of small town drama and mediocre minds. I know who I am, I don’t need anyone around me to tell me. I’ve spent 46 years on this planet becoming who I am today and I’m damn proud of it. If it intimidates you, then I’d say you probably need to do something about that within yourself. No amount of external talk, work, news, excuses, or even actions are going to do anything to quell those challenges in any way whatsoever unless you’re just looking for an excuse to stay home and drink. Sure, in that case, have at it.

I do, however, always listen. I talk a lot and a lot of people assume that means I don’t listen because I’m too busy chattering away. I’ll tell you I hear everything…and then some. I notice everything. The way he glances slightly up and to the left when trying to recall something farther back in memory than a few years ago. The way she fidgets with the watch on her wrist even though she has nowhere else to be and isn’t really checking the time. The way his eyes follow her movements as if she’s a prize to be won over or a tasty treat for the hungry wolfpack out on the prowl for the night’s festivities.

I listen to the older gent at the bar who has more memories than I have time to forget. I listen to the bartender chatting with the couple at the end from out of town. I know that out of the corner of my eye slightly behind my left shoulder someone is messing with the jukebox and someone else is racking balls on the table for the next game of pool.

I listen because I learn. I learn who people really are. I know who will say what to me and why, what transactional data is being exchanged – is it gossip? time? affection? attention? a chance at a moment alone? the opportunity to make an impression? the moment to boost one’s own ego with tidbits of information? what’s in it for them? what’s in it for me? what do THEY think is in it for me?

And then I walk away.

From all of it.

But I don’t forget any of it. Not even for a second. It’s all stored there, so that whenever the next thing happens, whenever I need to protect myself and the ones I love, I already have all of the information on who to trust, who trusts themselves, and who’s so busy proving to the whole world they’re doing great to know that they are anything but.

It’s amazing what you can hear just underneath the surface. People love to tell their secrets. It’s ironic really, how the whole purpose of a secret is to tell someone something they are never to repeat, but it’s the act of repeating it – or even just saying it in the first place – that makes it the most valuable currency of all. Even a large part of President Snow’s undoing was due in part to people knowing his secrets.

Oh, make no mistakes, there are skeletons in my closet. And yes, yes I know I’ve told you all a million times before (here at least) that I tend to throw them out in the street. They’re great props for scaring people away, pushing them aside, or convincing them that I am something scary. I’m not scary. I’m intimidating. But only if you don’t have your own sense of self confidence and self trust. Figure it out. I did. And learn the difference.

I have no secrets. Ask me any question and I’ll always answer you honestly – no matter whether you’re my friend or otherwise. I don’t believe in enemies. I don’t have time or patience for those, at least not this life. Perhaps there are still some stragglers back from Deadwood, and other places I’ve lived, but not this life, not here. Not now.

It’s a lot harder for someone to use you against yourself when you have no secrets and start with being truly honest with yourself – and always answer honestly whenever anyone asks you, especially about your past.

I’ve been a monster. A lover. A fighter. A victim. A warrior. A leader. A follower. A tyrant. An antagonist. A protagonist. A coward. A hero. I’ve been many things – we all have – and the sooner we admit everything we are today is a culmination of everything we’ve done, the sooner we can all learn to grow together and overlook our differences in our skin color, religion, sexual orientation, how we dress, and who we choose to live life with and instead start to look at people for who they are in their soul.

Some of the ugliest souls come with beautiful exteriors. Sometimes the hometown boy is really the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Sometimes the girl next door is really listening to the conversations just beneath the surface and already knows the truth. She’s just asking you to give you the opportunity to be honest with yourself.