Sunday, February 1, 2015

Taking the Bait

How is it that I so frequently find myself trapped in conversations that I would rather not be having? I must have a weakness for taking the bait and feeling compelled to say something. It’s a character flaw. I can’t refrain from speaking in the provocative, to which a reply appears, and suddenly I can’t find the exit. I’m forced to keep moving forward into a swarm of buzzing words. Why can’t I just keep my mouth shut?

This is how I wind up burning valuable minutes that I might have used writing the Great American Novel, instead, on Facebook discussing the pros and cons of having a colonoscopy. Do I have a passionate interest in colonoscopies? No, I do not. So what possesses me to post my opinion on this topic? I have not the faintest idea. I can only conclude that I am brain-damaged.

Or perhaps I find myself at a dinner party and someone who doesn’t follow football, has no clue about football, cannot comprehend the appeal of football, this someone starts slamming football because lately it appears to be politically incorrect to like football. The concussions. The disregard for player health and safety. The domestic violence. The distorted media frenzy material all rolled up into a big fat ball of upper-class distaste for a salt-of-the-earth game. Clearly the anti-football person is on the moral higher ground and not absorbing anything I have to say about football, but I can’t help myself. I take the bait. I step into the mess and start arguing. I am really not that contentious. Truly. Yes, I am passionate about football; but, no, I do not get anything out of arguing with someone who wants to abolish the sport. I would have much more fun and a much more productive conversation with someone who loves football. Sigh. I football on. (Empathetic brain damage from watching, I suppose.)

If only I could recover all the minutes and hours spent in inane conversations that went nowhere, proved nothing, did not strengthen relationships or solve problems or educate me or make me laugh or educate the person with whom I was speaking or make them laugh or crystalize the meaning of life. Maybe I expect too much from a conversation. Best to football on.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine complained to me about how a discussion we had both participated in had gone off track and failed to focus on the purpose of the evening. She and I had both attempted to get that discussion back on track. But it didn’t happen. She and I were both looking for a meaningful discussion that night and instead the group talked fluff. I let it go. I like that group of folks. Usually we do fine. They were just a bit flaky that particular night. But here’s the thing. My friend said, “I was frustrated because you and I were trying to have a serious conversation and everyone else kept talking about inconsequential things.” I replied, “To be honest, most conversations seem pretty inconsequential to me so I’ve just gotten used to it.” I shocked myself by admitting to such a level of condescension. Eek. It’s not like that.

I’m content with many conversations that yield nothing more than good will. There is much to be said for the value of friendly “small” talk. I enjoy the process of talking with someone I like, whether the actual conversation does anything for me or not. Because often the conversation is nice but not stimulating and I am grateful for nice. How adolescent to shut down any conversation that, in one’s own narrow perception, appears insubstantial? But lately I have had twinges of that adolescent mean streak and I find myself wishing I could spend less time in conversations that yield nothing. I wish I didn’t take the bait and get involved in so many empty conversations. For instance, all those arguments for the sake of argument; disagreements that will never be resolved because of hard-and-fast beliefs and perceptions. (Why can’t we all just be friends? And wear tie-dye and make daisy chains?) There are some differences that will not be resolved. Cannot be resolved. Period.

I am willing to bet that any topic could be fascinating, even life-changing, depending on how it is discussed. And I want more of those intellectually stimulating and transformative conversations. I cherish them when they happen; a miracle bursting forth from a teacup. If only I could bottle those conversations and sprinkle them on the ridiculous discussions of under-inflated footballs and colonoscopies and creamed peas and dust. I mean, where is the passion? The real talk? The depth? Forgive me. I sound like Prince Andrei in War and Peace; Prince Andrei who is so bored with life until he lays dying. And I’m not like that. I’m not as intolerant and disgusted as all this sounds. Seriously. The beauty and the grace are not lost on me. I appreciate. I’m grateful. I just yearn to talk more often about what matters. Like football.

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