Monday, December 30, 2013

Going to Holiday Parties? Please take The Fine Art of Conversation…not your phone

Twittering ain't conversation.  Neither is Facebook. But I think that is what most now use as the basis for the fine art of conversation. One hundred and forty characters about one person, the author. Delivered with authority, humor if you've got it—and a dose of civility.

This holiday season, like you, I have been to quite a few luncheons, dinner parties and cocktail events.
Allow me to ask, am I the only one working the room? Finding out who YOU are? Being a good guest, congenial and participating? Asking why must you look at your phone? Hello! It's 9 p.m. on Saturday night and you are old enough to not need a babysitter for your kids, so why are you texting?

Yes, I am Grinch-ing this blog. Asking that people return to the fine art of conversation.

I don't remember who it was who wrote an essay about having a daily date to meet his grandmother for tea time. I seem to think he must have been British, but that does not matter as much as the universality of what he wished to convey. When he was a child, he cringed at the thought of having to spend an hour with his grand dame alone. She required him to converse. Until he was perhaps twelve or thirteen, he really did not understand that conversation was a mutual exchange of information. Once he realized that this distinctly human skill for sharing hopes, expectations and news was revelatory, he was off and running.

The point of con (with) verse (talk) ation (process of) is to find mutual interests, discover each other's proclivities and learn from the other's experiences. Now that, I contend, should not be difficult, right?

Yet this season, I have been to a few events in which I came to meet new people and learn about them. After all, that is what gives us perspective on our own human condition. Or so I would assert. But I must say I have come away from at least two of these occasions in which I learned more about the other person than they probably expected. For one person, I was treated to a monologue until lack of breath or subject matter caused her to halt for air. I could not even inject a question, her speech was so relentlessly delivered. I broke away…for a drink, baby. A big one!

In another case, I came away able to write the woman's short bio. I know her career path, the number of her grandchildren, when the first and last were born and how she felt about that. I know her professional biography, too. This person at least talked at a normal pace and had a few moments of interest in others who sat nearby. But I will note that the person did not ask one question of any of the others. Other guests volunteered their own experiences. This person never solicited any information. I marvel at that self-centeredness.

I doubt it is difficult to teach our children how to converse. Yes, I had three of my own who were required to show the whites of their eyes at the dinner table each evening at 6:30. They were expected to tell us about their day, their thoughts, their experiences while they ate their vegetables. But teaching children to talk is a walk in the park. Helping adults to converse should be as simple.

Yet each year I seem to find fewer who know how to share information about themselves that does not become a diatribe. Even with a glass of wine in their hands!

I will continue to go to parties looking for those who can talk. And contribute. Share.

This year, I've had my share of those who don't.  Too bad most of them wind up as my characters in next year's novels.


Kate Deveaux said...

I cannot agree more Cerise and want to give you a giant hug for saying this! One of my biggest pet peeves is how now people are glued to their phones, even at the dinner table, really everywhere I the supermarket check out and even on girls' night out. What gives? I will pass your great article on to everyone I can. Thanks for the "call out" to those phone obsessed.

Best for the New Year,

Cerise DeLand said...

Kate! Big Kisses to you and thank you.
I cannot get the need to look at your phone or respond to it at any given nanosecond. Can it be life threatening? Must you rush to the ER? Has your bank been robbed? Perhaps? At 9 p.m. on Saturday night…and no one was on duty at the on-line terminal? sheesh.
Thx for the forward, too! Let's hear it for good conversation!
Happy 2014!