Skip to main content

Frustrating Civilized Conversation

When thousands of campers are congregated in a town like Quartzsite, and have the opportunity for campfires and conversation, it would be nice to believe that it leads to better conversations than usual. But maybe that is just primal-ism and romanticism.

The retrogrouch in me yearns for conversations in olden times, when there was more formality and a tighter consensus about the rules of proper behavior. Come on now, admit it, don't you feel a little of that when you watch the polite rituals in the movies called historical 'costume dramas?' But the standards of yore haven't survived a couple hundred years of democratic leveling.

But maybe this presents an opportunity to reconstruct rules of conversation from a blank piece of paper. And this time, we will do it right. Shouldn't the aim of conversation be good will, a bit of entertainment, and subtle education? If we get good at this, we can enjoy full-bodied conversation about non-trivial subjects. Imagine conversations that make us go away feeling consciously grateful that our distant ancestors developed human speech. (and a brain to run it all.)

And yet, civilized conversation is undermined by bad habits and muddy ideas. We can all recognize our own shortcomings in the following list. But I am here to tell you that progress and improvement are possible, and will give an example at the end.

1. Old men and their long-winded stories. 

2. The Frustrated Comedian/Entertainer. Wearying people with your wit. Essay by Swift.

3. The Frustrated Lawyer or Theologian. Talking for victory.

4. The Quibbler (aka, a frustrated mathematician or theologian.) Interrupting the other person's point by quibbling over details.

5. The Chronic Contradictor.

6. The Frustrated Psychologist/Social Worker. She blasts you with her mental probe beam from Star Trek. And she wasn't even invited into your head!

7. The Frustrated Scholar (aka, the know-it-all who can't keep his big trap shut.) You know the type.

I already discussed some of these topics in a previous essay. So I will finish this post next time by keeping some of the items above as mere bullet points. Still, this post is turning into a book, and I run the risk of showing too much #1 and #7. So let's finish this another day.


Anonymous said…
I think you are striving for something that doesn’t transpire that often in the RVing environment in which you live (most of the time) – and in the RVing environment in general. The something you are missing is “full-bodied”, stimulating, intellectual conversation. What are the odds that you are going to sit next to someone with your intelligence and depth of knowledge around the campfire? And if you do happen to get lucky, what are the odds that s/he will fit your conversationalist pro forma? I suggest you are beating a dead horse although I admire you for holding your standard high. I don’t mean to disparage RVers as good conversationalists. It’s just that the transient nature of the group limits the time to explore the minds of your verbal sparing partner. Chris

Chris, I would rather not use the term, "sparring partner." That is too much like Syndrome #3 in the list. How about us calling them "conversational associates?"

But I see what you mean about the transient nature of the group being a limiting factor.

The RV industry has made it so easy to be an "RV camper" that there is nothing special about them. They are common suburbanites, standard retirees, and bar-coded mass tourists, with all the Good and the Bad that goes along with that.
sooperedd said…
I come across #1 a lot; #4 and #5 a little less. What I find with #1s are they love to talk about all their adventures and stories but are lousy listeners when it's my turn. Their disinterest is glaringly obvious; they suck at even pretending to be interested.

I would add a #8 The One Upper.
WHATEVER you've have done/seen/experienced they have done/seen/experienced better.
My patience is thin with this type as I try to distance myself from them as quickly as possible.
Yes indeed, #1-s are fanatically one-sided about it.

I never thought about #8-s. But maybe they are a sub-category of #3: Talking for Victory. (oops...)
Dave Davis said…
The very act of sitting around a campfire is extremely unhealthy. Intelligent discussions usually end up with participants e pressing strong feelings about core beliefs.
How is that going to end?
Yes, David, that is why we need to find a way to keep discussions from becoming arguments. But let's not be defeatist and resign ourselves to chit-chat.
Anonymous said…
You’ve made it clear, kB, here and in other posts that chit-chat is anathema to you. But don’t you feel that for one to engage in "full-bodied" conversation you have to begin with chit-chat to understand something about the "conversational associates"? And yes, it often begins with "where ya frum?". Chris
Actually, now that you got me thinking about it, Sooper, I have had people do that to me a couple times. Talk about pouring ice water over the conversation!
Steve said…
A friend and I were just discussing the topic of "manners" a few days ago by phone. That lead to "will people ever lift their heads from their smart phones to hold a conversation?"

I think the reform you would like to see, the one you dream of is no longer possible. Maybe they need an "app" for that??? LOL
XXXXX said…
Ah, yes, have to wholeheartedly agree with Chris here. Chit-chat allows me to test the waters, for it allows for an easy and courteous OUT if there is anything about the person I don't care for. It also allows for a natural opening into a subject which may be of mutual interest.
Also have to say that "Where ya from" offers some of the most interesting answers. There is a wealth of good stuff in why people like or don't like where they're from, from the cultural/social aspects to the weather.
OK George, I will concede the point that just about any harmless question is a good way to get the ball rolling and decide whether you like the other person enough to continue.

Perhaps I am too quick to conclude from a trite beginning that the conversation will REMAIN in trite topics.
Ed said…
My biggest problem with the "Where ya from" chit chat question is that it creates a #1 problem. I guess I should not take the question literally. Just tell them I'm from where ever pops into my head and move the conversation on to something more 'meaningful'. I guess I'm more of #7 kind of conversationalist, you ask me what time it is and I'll tell you how to build a watch.
Oh yea, smartphones. I wasn't even energetic enough to add that to the list.
Ed, Uh-oh. That is the pedantry that Swift warned against. Well then, you now have your self-improvement project for 2016!
Anonymous said…
I admit somewhat proudly to being a #5 at times. People are often so black and white in a world created in infinite shades of grey, and I can not seem to contain may drive to shake up their narrow little mindsets. I suppose I could simply let them rant and walk away with them thinking I completely agree with them, but I often take up the opposition banner.
Yep, I know about #5 too. But rather than completely agree or blatantly contradict, what about partially agree, in certain circumstances?