More than a few times now someone has described me as ‘quite disarming’. As my husband recommends, I’ve been trying the compliment (or critique?) on for size; does this fit me? Which has lead me to ask a prior question, what exactly does ‘disarming’ mean?
Disarming no. 1
The dictionary talks about disarming as a way of removing feelings of distrust or hostility. It’s a war term apparently. It’s about getting rid of the other’s arms – their guns. This sounds like a fairly pleasant sort of conversation technique, ‘okay people let’s put our weapons – of aggression, of avoidance, of dishonesty – down and have nice a chat’.
But people don’t usually show up with weaponry – conversational or otherwise – unless they think they’re gonna get hurt. To disarm then is no pleasant task, in my experience it’s a bit more like this:
If I am disarming in this sense, if I disarm by entering into a risky situation and saying ‘hey, you don’t need that weapon here, we’re safe’, then that’s great! It’s a tricky but lovely exercise to take up.
But, as the friend who I am teaching English to constantly reminds me, English words are rarely kind enough to have a single meaning. ‘Arms’, of course, has another meaning. I’m talking about those arms that grow out of my shoulders, carry my books, and embrace my friends. I need these arms, I don’t want these arms disarmed.
Which makes me wonder, can being disarming sometimes mean getting it wrong and taking someone’s necessary arms instead of their unnecessary weaponry? Am I sometimes stealing someone’s arms mid-way through a conversation a wandering off?
I think the compliment fits, but maybe it comes with a quiet warning: disarm, but make sure you get the right arms.