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The Time of Year to Be Realistic about People

There is indeed a silver lining in every cloud. The decline of American culture and society has brought an unexpected blessing: the "Fourth of July" (once called Independence Day) has superseded Christmas as the most ridiculous national holiday. 

Believe it or not, that has made it easier for me to ignore or laugh at Christmas. I saw a car in the parking lot with one of Santa's legs crushed by the trunk of the car. Poor Santa's withered leg dangled out. Now there is a motorist who has the right attitude about Christmas! Don't be sour or critical about it. Limit your comments about Christmas to crisp and good-natured mockery, when it is irresistible. The rest of the time, say nothing. Talk about the weather or the condition of the roads.

The holidays put a lot of pressure on you to make "conversation" with people. You probably find yourself looking down the table and wondering how it could be possible that you all came from the same womb. Just settle for chit-chat and conviviality. It's better than an argument. There is no point in ruining a small Good by demanding a big Good.

Normally I find quotes to illustrate my point, but here I am having trouble finding the quote of James Boswell, when he was complaining to Samuel Johnson about how most conversations degenerated into idea-less small talk. 

Johnson -- normally a gruff old bear -- surprised him by pointing out that these apparently trivial conversations did in fact have some value: they gave people a chance to practice kindness to each other.


XXXXX said…
The Samuel Johnson point sounds like it has value. It is a point that sometimes we fail to realize...the value of being a good listener and engaging with another person at whatever level that person wishes to be. The value of being a friend.
We will never change the world nor change the human condition. It is worthwhile to strive for higher ideals and conversation of some depth in the hope of striving for these higher ideals but, at the end of the day, we are what we are and there is wisdom in just allowing that to be.
Which means giving an ear to conversation that may have no value to you but is where the speaker wishes to be.
I don't believe in Christmas but I do believe in kindness. I believe the world has been influence by kindness at least as much as it has been influenced by "great thought." Perhaps more.

By kindness I don't mean charity. I mean simply putting one's own agenda aside in order to give to the other, to be available to the other person as that person asks at the moment. To give time, thought, consideration, and compassion. To be fully human. Humanity at its best.

If it takes the impending holiday to spur you to thinking about the potential of kindness in being a good listener, then I would say it has accomplished its purpose.
John V said…
Good advice, considering what we have to go through the next 10 days.:-)
But what is the point of being a good listener if the other person has nothing to say?

Therapy for them? Then I want $150 per hour. Seriously, I am not interested in being a therapist.

Just visualize one dog running up to another in the dog park. The dog wants to know if the other one is friendly. Then they race for the frisbee or get on opposite ends of the pull toy. They don't expect each other to have deep thoughts or meaningful conversation.

Where do we get such unrealistic assumptions about people?
XXXXX said…
Consider for a moment that you are the one with unrealistic assumptions. (Or expectations, better stated.)
George, indeed, in the past, I think I DIDexpect too much from people. For the most part I've outgrown this. I go to books for big thoughts, and settle for smiles and wagging-tails in face to face encounters.
XXXXX said…
I think I have shared this path. I think that the written word is far superior to spontaneous speech. I often write and rewrite, leaving it open for awhile and coming back and still often am not satisfied. How often have we thought back on spontaneous conversations and realized how we missed the boat, missed a golden opportunity, forever lost, as one cannot go back to that moment, to what was in each person's mind, to the rapport that was there at the time and to the opportunity that was there but was fleeting, as all opportunity is by its nature.
I often think that people who gravitate and stubbornly insist on small talk are protecting themselves from what has been hurtful in the past. It is not the nature of children (to be small minded and superficial) as they are unconditionally bonded to how their parents frame the world and give it meaning and totally vulnerable to how they are treated and yet often do not understand why. There is this same degree of vulnerability in these meaningful adult conversations and, as the years go by, people learn to protect themselves as they do not wish to be misunderstood one more time, blown off or even worse, mocked or laughed at.

First, it becomes necessary to prove oneself trustworthy in this regard. It is something that develops over time, one small step at a time. And just being willing to listen is the first step. OK. Not for you. That's alright. (I'm afraid I might sense your initial low growl and the hair rising on the back of your neck and would perhaps walk away from such an experience with you myself.)
Unless a person is born with a low intelligence or something similar to this, there IS something in there beyond small talk. You might not agree with what they have to say but there is a philosophy in there, you can be sure.
Idealistic people often have this same problem of expecting too much. But we are people who love our ideals. They give us meaning. But as far as changing the world with sharing my ideals, I admit defeat.
And so I have accidentally realized the value in just putting a smile on someone's face, some lighthearted comment that acknowledges and recognizes them as the individual they are. And that is what I mean. Can there be truth in my resulting hypothesis that perhaps the way to stop the wars, the bitter disagreements, comes not with thrashing it all out but rather with simply choosing to stop the fight and go to a lighter, friendlier ground?

Let's go to your dog for proof. You have a strong bond, as strong as any and it has become so over time by spending time outdoors together, being close during sleep times, feeding and taking care of his needs. The bond did not occur because of deep meaningful conversations or solving the problems of the universe. And perhaps we people are more like this than we might want to admit. Perhaps our high philosophies only get in the way.
Agree about being a good listener.
Plus. No one has ever learned anything while they were talking.
Merry Christmas.