Thursday, May 18, 2006

The art of conversation

Yawn. Pretty Lady was out a bit late last night. She went to a reading of Sex Radicals. She is not trying to be provocative by telling you this; truthfully, Sex Radicals have always rather bored Pretty Lady, and it has only gotten worse with maturity. But one of the Sex Radicals was a good friend of a good friend of Pretty Lady's, and an excellent writer as well. Her presentation, indeed, was far superior to the others. (Note to others: Spanking, unadorned, is only interesting in a literary context for a minute or so, three at the outside. Beyond this one must elaborate upon circumstance, if one wishes to hold the attention of one's audience.)

But that is all by the way. What Pretty Lady really intended to discuss were the circumstances of the cozy group hanging out afterward, in the Quiet Bar with Couches. (Bless Quiet Bars with Couches. Why in the world have not the vast majority of other bars followed suit with this simple, wondrous concept? Pretty Lady generally avoids bars, because she so often cannot sit comfortably, see her friends clearly, or hear them speak. This may be an attraction if one's friends are ugly and boring, but Pretty Lady does not hang out with those people.)

So many digressions. At any rate. In the Quiet Bar, Pretty Lady was able to make the acquaintance of a very nice young gentleman, who impressed her at first blush by paying absolutely equal attention to herself and to the morbidly obese, ambiguously gendered, socially awkward individual sitting next to her. In Pretty Lady's book, this gets an automatic fifty points for Civility 101. The three of us were soon involved in an animated discussion which ranged from the Miss Lower East Side Pageant to photographic technique to web design to the fascism of liberalism to the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, when we reached the war in Iraq, there it stuck.

It is not that the gentleman did not have interesting insights upon the war in Iraq. It is not that he lacked information, or that he had not thought things through. It is not that his opinions offended Pretty Lady. It is that after the first twenty minutes of hearing his opinions, Pretty Lady had ceased attempting to get a word in edgewise. Pretty Lady greatly dislikes the feeling of Being a Bore, and when a person has interrupted and overridden her comments more than three times in the course of ten minutes, she naturally comes to the conclusion that she is boring them. Such a feeling eventually produces discomfort, and the inchoate desire to Get Away.

So she tactfully waited until the gentleman took a bathroom break, bid farewell to her friends and departed. She regretted not exploring further conversation with her friend's friend, but since what little of the discussion she could glean seemed to center around Random Sex, she doesn't think she missed much.

(The thing that bothers Pretty Lady about Sex Radicals is that their Sex Radicalism is so evidently, obviously, pleadingly about Something Else, which they have grown their Sex Radicalism to defend, like a burl round a wasp nest. Thus the whole discussion is evidently, obviously, pleadingly Not Real, and this drives Pretty Lady bananas. But since this is likely to upset every one of Pretty Lady's readers, on all sides of the socio-political fence, please forget she said it.)

What she intended to say (ahem) is that Conversation is an Interactive Art. It is not a monologue. Monologues are for stage presentations, television, and blogging. What with the plethora of wireless, free Blogspot accounts, and Open Mikes in the city, there is no excuse for monologuing at any other time. The joy of conversation is wrapped up in the fact that nobody should know where it is going; good conversation explores uncharted territory, including, as it does, the input and influence of diverse minds and experiences.

This is why the basic Rules of Civility are so stringent about things such as interruption, the asking of intelligent questions, and the inadvisability of selectively ignoring people based upon such irrelevancies as personal appearance. They are set up, hopefully, to provide maximum conversational joy for all included. It is a terrible pity that these rules no longer seem to be taught in society at large.

Pretty Lady blames television. After growing up on a diet of inane, one-way blather, once young people are launched into the adult world, they naturally assume that THEY are TV. Thus they blather blithely away, occasionally aware that they are losing their audience, but unable to conceive of how to regain it except by blathering ever more frenetically.

Thus, Pretty Lady has some simple advice for young persons who wonder, sadly, why Pretty Ladies keep disappearing on them as soon as they head for the bathroom. The secret is this: Learn to ask questions. You may start with a question that seems impossibly inane, such as "what do you do?" and follow from there; do not worry about being boring. People simply love to discuss themselves, as you yourself already know. Once the question is asked, you must then listen to the answer. The proof that you have been listening is that you are now able to ask a more-relevant, and hopefully intelligent, question.

Pretty Lady also recommends that every individual entering into a social context equip themselves with a monitor for the Sound of their Own Voice. This monitor should be set with an alarm that goes off every five minutes, preferably three. No matter how witty, fascinating, deep or hilarious your statements may be, after three minutes of them this alarm should trigger the statement, "but enough of this. What have YOU to say, my dear?"

Pretty Lady knows that this process may appear painful and frustrating at first. But she guarantees that it will ultimately result in an old age full of friendships which are rewarding in hitherto inconceivable ways. The alternative is too hideous to contemplate.

25 comments:

A Wiser Man Than I said...

I go to an engineering school where the men outnumber the girls 3 or 4 to 1. In retrospect... anyway, I enjoyed the story, and the advice is sound. Care to come an give a guest lecture to some clueless engineers? ;)

Seriously, the behavior is embarrasing. I would say Pretty Lady couldn't believe it, but something tells me she could.

dlkjdfsa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
dlkjdfsa said...

The act of communicating is a two way process, if it is not you get classic TV zombie results. Unfortunately I have a problem in bars with couches. Granted I like them better than bars with decibel levels adjusted so communication includes spitting in a friends ear, but couches take me back to my TV days, add beer and I'm bound to not hear any buzzers going off. The kings and Queens of communication are always good listeners and there is an incredible lack of them these days. I think when one has a "nice" shell and an ear, you are a big target to the man seeking interaction. The problem is when the one that will listen the most, does not direct the buzzer. Interrupt and make the bastard see his rudeness. buzzz....

prettylady said...

Care to come an give a guest lecture to some clueless engineers?

Only if this lecture is to be well-attended and well-paid. Pretty Lady's family is rather over-full of engineers. To be strictly fair, her brother the mechanical engineer is NOT guilty of this sort of thing.

The problem is when the one that will listen the most, does not direct the buzzer. Interrupt and make the bastard see his rudeness. buzzz....

Very sound advice, my dear Rabbitslayer. Pretty Lady is working on this one. Her personal training in basic civility is so deeply instilled that she has a hard time transcending it, even in extraordinary circumstances.

The added difficulty is that other people have so little of this training that even when their behavior is handed back to them on a platter, they are unable to make the necessary connections.

prettylady said...

P.S.--Pretty Lady was thinking of entitling her lecture "Learn to Listen--and get Laid", thinking this would ensure a good turnout, but then she remembered that of all males, engineers are the ones with the highest tolerance for NOT getting laid that she has ever met, and she has met an awful lot of them.

dlkjdfsa said...

Maybe you could confuse the Casino goers. "Learn to Listen and get Lucky" Listening and Asking the right questions is useful for so much more that the old nasty. It is the essential element in a meaningful rela.. BUZZ I have a disorder that makes me.. BUZZ Look like I'm not listening BUZZ. What?

Billy D said...

"...engineers are the ones with the highest tolerance for NOT getting laid that she has ever met,..."

Hey, hey... easy with that paintbrush there Lady. We're not all dullards.

dlkjdfsa said...

Billy, if that was actually you in that bunny suit I might believe you.

prettylady said...

I didn't say 'dullards,' Billy, I just said 'high tolerance.' Did you ever hear the story about the engineer and the frog princess?

The punch line is, "Lady, I'm an engineer. I don't have time for princesses. But a talking frog, that's pretty cool."

Having dated an engineer for several years, and having engineers for a brother and a father as well, I must say that this joke is dead on the money.

Plus, Billy, your avatar scares me.

Anonymous said...

I am an engineer.... Engineers are people too... well, maybe not the way you think of a person!

Anonymous said...

Sorry that was me...

-rlh

Billy D said...

Haha...my avatar scares you.
You ought to see the real me.

prettylady said...

Engineers are people too... well, maybe not the way you think of a person!

Rlh, I SAID my FATHER and my BROTHER are engineers--these are some of the most important people in my LIFE. Sheesh. Perhaps this is the underlying reason I am so fond of YOU, dear rlh. Sheesh. CONSTANT mis-interpretation.

Terry_Jim said...

Thanks for this post, P.L.
Your talent for explaining the basic Rules of Civility makes your blog a great read, and gives me some points to stress to my kids.

New acquaintances might, might think you are intelligent when you talk about yourself and your opinions, but when you listen and ask intelligent questions while people talk about themselves they will think you are Brilliant.


"but enough of this. What have YOU to say, my dear?"

- The Golden Road to the Joy of Conversation.

It is a terrible pity that these rules no longer seem to be taught in society at large.
-
Write that book, P.L.
-

Terry_Jim said...

Thanks for this post, P.L.
Your talent for explaining the basic Rules of Civility makes your blog a great read, and gives me some points to stress to my kids.

New acquaintances might, might think you are intelligent when you talk about yourself and your opinions, but when you listen and ask intelligent questions while people talk about themselves they will think you are Brilliant.


"but enough of this. What have YOU to say, my dear?"

- The Golden Road to the Joy of Conversation.

It is a terrible pity that these rules no longer seem to be taught in society at large.
-
Write that book, P.L.
-
In this rushed, TV influenced,
high tech world, people
will respond to a call to civility- well at least they will buy the book to give to others!

Morris said...

It's simple really. It's in being willing to listen, as you said.
That takes being not so full of ones self that you're not even able to 'see' the other person.
I've found that with my long time friendships that *both* of us are willing to listen to each other. Unless both are willing to give to the relationship, it's eventually doomed. People who only take lose out on so much.

heidi said...

We live in a world where it is deemed as a Major Personal Right to be Heard.

And many pursue that Right at any cost.

Which makes any "conversation" less about an actual exchange of concepts and ideas and much more like a soap box and a captive audience.

And I like engineers, myself. Mostly. Sometimes, though, they do give inordinately long answers to very small questions.

Morgan said...

I think one of the reasons communication break down is because people just can't stay in the moment. They see someone they want to impress and their mind is already planning the first date, the first kiss, etc as their mouth goes into overdrive.
They don't realize their being boring, they think they are impressing you.

This doesn't just happen in romatic relationships, though. It also happens in professional and personal communications.
But it's really a type of selfishness. They're angling for something for themselves. To be in the moment - to have an *exchange* might blow the illusion.
If you start really listening and find out that the person doesn't like cats or is of the opposite political persuasion or doesn't share your interests, then that is often considered Too Much Information. It bursts the illusion.

Most people today view every aspect of their lives through a prism of their own desires and expectations. It's because we've become a bit too shallow to see things outside ourselves, to *fully* take an interest in the moment, and who or what is in it.

You're exactly right, PL, that television is part of the problem. Kids today are raised substituting fantasy for their own reality. It makes it too easy to do it for themselves once the TV is off.

Bravo for an excellent post. This should go into your "Best Of."

Anonymous said...

Yiu are fond of me? Well, what do know about me?

I might be a nice guy.. but then I could be a mean guy sittn in my wifebeater t-shirt (w/ bbq stains to match my boxers) waiting for someone to say something to set me off.

And you are fond of me?

You're a forgiving soul...

-rlh

dlkjdfsa said...

I'm fond of your shitty bbq boxers. rlh

Morgan said...

Ooooooo....tell me you've got a mass of nasty back hair poking out around the top of that wife beater T-shirt and I'll be lost entirely. I'm from North Carolina.

Anonymous said...

Actually I was just kidfing...

-rlh

dlkjdfsa said...

"mass of nasty back hair poking out" that has to be the most deliciously disgusting grouping of words. Bravo Morgan! :)

Morgan said...

It was my pleasure to disgust you. And to make rlh retract his disturbing self-portrait. I'll consider this a two-fer. ;-)

Anonymous said...

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