Remember my blog on civil discourse. Obviously, nobody read it except my dear correspondents. This is so sad, and dangerous. Since my last blog civil discourse has gotten worse, not better.
So where do we go from here. First, just try listening next time you find yourself with someone who is pontificating. Too many people are in transmit mode, not in listening mode. Transmitting is fun. Listening is hard. What does pontificating mean anyway. Sometimes I find myself using a word I don’t exactly know the meaning of, but it sounds right. I looked it up. It means expressing one’s opinions in a way considered annoyingly pompous and dogmatic. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s not good. Pontificating, not good.
So, what else can I say about this subject. Actually, I can say this. Most people don’t know how to stay on the subject. Now, in casual friendly gatherings, getting off the subject is OK, particularly if you have been drinking, but at least one should try to connect what dazzling thing you’re about to say with the conversation happening in front of you. See what I mean I’m off the subject already. It’s so easy to do. So back to the subject which is civil discourse.
One of the best things to know in civil discourse is when to keep your mouth shut. This is hard to do, especially when something is coming out of your mouth that you have not thought through. At these times, it is good to have someone with you that signals you to shut up, by placing two fingers across his mouth.
This brings us to the subject of lies. Think about how many kinds of lies there are. There is the little white lie, not really a lie, just sort of a mini good natured fib. Then there is “no lie” at the end of a “good story” that means “you can take that to the bank.” Then there is a damn lie which is serous indeed and probably vaguely threatening. There is the tall tale which is probably not true but can be entertaining none the less. A whopper is a lie so ludicrous that it is probably true. And last, an untruth occurs frequently when someone is trying to alter or exaggerate the facts to fit his narrative. It is usually not malicious, just someone trying to over make a point.
Now back to civil discourse. It is in tatters. I like to know what’s going on in the world but my brain is being drained by the inane chattering of professional pundits. My TV viewing has been reduced to watching the weather report and Turner Classic Movies, and my newspaper reading to the funnies. This regimen preserves my equanimity. I am blissfully unaware of what is happening in the world, but I do know when the sun sets and what phase the moon is in and if it will rain tomorrow or will I be able to go to the beach, important stuff like that. All is peaceful and bright.
I think that the news today is about entertainment and ratings. A century or so ago, we hardly knew what happened in our own neighborhoods. Today we hear about all the things that are happening in the world. I remember being in London in the 1980’s and on TV there was a man talking about the weather in China. I said to Peter, I didn’t know they had weather in China. Sounds silly, but I really had to adjust my thinking to the realities of a larger world.
Back to civil discourse. See how hard it is to stay focused when you have the floor. Seriously, in conversation we really do need to listen to each other and I mean really listen, not be thinking about what your next bright or amusing utterance will be. Comment on what is said so the conversant knows that he wasn’t just taking to the wall, a positive comment if possible or an “I hear you but have you thought about?” whatever you’ve just thought about to add to the conversation. So when all is said, you both come away from the conversation with a good feeling of having had your say, but also possibly of learning something. So, there is my Pollyannaish admonishment of the day.
Speaking of conversation, I’m thinking of starting a salon made up of a few special friends, meeting monthly. I wish you all lived near. Alas.