Wednesday, March 02, 2011

talking with people

One of my colleagues was talking about how he didn't like dealing with 'townies,' that they 'always' said stuff that annoyed him and even implied some of them were attacking him because of what he taught.

Whatever. I think "small talk" is a skill, and maybe this guy doesn't have it quite down.

I took my car in for an oil and filter change this morning (yes, I CAN do it myself, but I really prefer to pay the $25 or whatever to have someone do it for me). The waiting room has a tv in it. I was the first appointment of the day (I have no early morning classes today) so as I was coming in, the owner of the place was getting set up.

He switched on the tv, but then saw me pulling out a stack of grading.

He asked: "Oh, will having the news on bother you?"

I said, "No, as long as it's not Charlie Sheen."

And he laughed.

Later on, he came back and looked at the tv for a few minutes. He said to me, "It's not talking about Charlie Sheen, is it?"

And I said, "No, now it's talking about Christina Aguillera."

And he laughed. And you know, I enjoy little interactions like that. It's nothing deep, nothing involved, nothing earth-shaking. But there's a connection there. Sort of a sense of "I see you, I recognize you as a fellow human."

I'm not big on arguing stuff with relative strangers; in fact, I find political discussions with people I don't know well and understand well pretty nerve-wracking. I'm always surprised when someone in public, surrounded by strangers (like in the dining car of the train) feels comfortable popping out some political opinion that other people might not necessarily share.

I mean, if the shop owner had made some remark about how Charlie Sheen was being railroaded or mistreated or something, I probably would have smiled nervously, and nodded, and gone right back to grading. I don't have the emotional energy to deal with people who want to make everything an argument; that's not how I operate.

And I admit, this is where I'm kind of a wuss...I don't step up and defend/explain/whatever when someone is presenting a slanted view, or when they say something I know patently is not true. Because I've seen that you can't convince people about stuff if the opinions are what I would call "emotionally held."

(There are some things, for example, legalization of drugs (coupled with very tight regulation and taxation), where I can see and understand the arguments for it, but something very deep in me says, "NO. I do not want to see the country going there." And I recognize that some of my opinions are emotionally held. But the difference, I think, sometimes, is that I know that, and I can also see the other side of the story).

The thing is, I've found some people - I had a very bad experience once in public with someone who called themselves a "recovering Christian" - they can talk a big smacky game, but when you gently challenge them - I said to him, "I respect your religious stance [he claimed to be a Buddhist but his beliefs and attitudes were not like any of the other Buddhists I've met] and am happy to let you be at peace with it. But would you please stop saying nasty things about my faith in front of me? I know there are Christians who get it very wrong but I try hard not to; we're not all like the people that you seem to have been hurt by in your past."

That shut him up. For a while. (There was another woman that I knew to be Catholic within earshot, but she didn't engage...)

And believe me, I wanted to throw up even after saying those few sentences. But I felt like I had to. It was that, or take my dinner plate (we were in the dining car on a train), get up, and ask the dining car steward if I could have a different seat. And I didn't want to put the dining car guy through that. (I will say he kept shooting sympathetic glances my way throughout the guy's loud ranting).

I don't like dealing with extremes in public. I can happily talk about the weather, or ask someone about their life's work and what they like about it, or what their hobbies are. I can even (sometimes) talk a little sports. But I don't like talking politics or religion, not without knowing whether the person is someone who can be reasonable or someone who hops the bus to crazy-town at the first mention of something they disagree with.

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