Saturday, December 20, 2008

Are You Talkin' To Me?

The Smiths--"Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before" (mp3)

We all have people who talk to us too much, who can trap us in our offices and ignore whatever hints or body language or continual returns to our computer screens we might offer.

(Hint: unless you have your coffee machine in your office, I've learned that the best way to break the spell is to stand up with your empty coffee cup and ask the person if he or she wants to go get some coffee. It works!)

But I'm not here to condemn those people; actually, I like those kind of people a good bit of the time and have enjoyed where those unexpectedly-lengthy conversations have taken us. I've been witnessed to, cried to, made to laugh harder than I've ever laughed, and made friendships I didn't expect to make. I'm a pretty good soundboard because I don't say much. It's only when I'm under time pressure myself that those "super talkers" are too much for me to handle.

I think I'm getting older and more generous. Ha.

But, I'm sure you can tell my bow and arrow is indeed pointed at a target: it's those people who will tell you something that they've already told you, and probably more than once. And here's why: those people have devalued you as a human being.

Now, don't get me wrong. I have a father in his 80's who occasionally repeats himself. I had a grandmother with Alzheimer's whose turntable needle got stuck in the groove of the vinyl album of her life in about 1939 when she was visiting her family in France and war was declared and she had to return to America on an ocean liner where they feared that they might be torpedoed at any moment. If you have to hear a story over and over, it's not a bad one to hear.

But there are people out there who have lost touch with humanity in a far more tragic way. They are walking around the rest of us, engaging in what they think are meaningful human interactions, when the reality is that they are only talking. They are dispensing information, and, more often than not, because they are dispensing information, they do so in a montonic manner. And the thing is, they would be talking about the same thing, whether it was you or me or the security guard standing next to them, or, quite frankly, if it was the same you or me or security guard that they said the same things to last week.

People tailor conversations. That's what we do. We tell the story differently, we emphasize something that might be important to a particular person, we edit what someone might not need to hear, we ask questions, specific questions, that remind both parties in a conversation of previous encounters and shared memories. The talker does not do this. Instead, he has a flow chart in his brain that offers about 5 different options to him, and, whether or not his listener pushes one of those buttons, he is going to take the "conversation" down one of those paths.

The point, you ask? The point is that this is one of those seasons that highlight loneliness, and this time around, it strikes me that there is nothing more lonely than a person who walks through a day talking to people about things that neither he nor they are listening to. He's already had the conversation with himself in his head. The other person, no doubt, heard it before. And both probably walk away with misconceptions--the listener with the idea that this person cares so little about him that the talker doesn't even remember the previous conversation(s), the talker with the belief that he has made contact with the human race.
"Stop Me If You've Think You've Heard This One Before" is off the Smiths' Strangeways, Here We Come, available at Itunes.


troutking said...

Let's do an office switch one day and see who has it better/worse.

Bob said...

This is your office mate I'm writing about, buddy.

troutking said...

With the amount of time he spends in my office, he still has time to come see you???????