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By Narcissa Lyons


I had a conversation with a friend the other day about a topic that has long puzzled me, and I’ve got few answers here today.  It’s no secret people like to talk, and a rather large portion of those people like to talk about themselves.  It is human, and often it is not daunting, can be entertaining and funny, give oneself material for thoughts later about just how weird we all are.  I won’t focus on talking about yourself, because in the end I don’t know all the reasons for it.  I know why I do it, although I think I am good at limiting it.  One could argue my writing is a direct contradiction of that, but writing ain’t talking and it’s easier for anyone to anonymously stop reading than to walk away from a conversation.  But since I said I wasn’t going to talk about that, I’ll move on.

People feel pressure to talk, to not let too many moments go by in silence.  I’ve been part of those conversations and gotten so caught up in marveling at the situation that I lose the thread of the words being spoken to me.  Which is not exactly convenient if you’re then asked “don’t you think so?”  Conveying information is important, and relating observations is fun, but there is also something very deep and soulful about sharing silence.  I won’t think you a fool because you’re saying nothing, and there is in fact communication going on when there is nothing audible other than the wind through the trees, the vibration of tires on tar below you, the chatter of others in the area, countless interesting backgrounds.  And in that shared communication there is the growth of that respective relationship, regardless of who it is.  You can exchange a glance, possibly a smile or a raised eyebrow, but you don’t have to.  Whatever happens, as they say, happens.  I am not saying that to break that silence would be sinful, because if something needs to be said, then something needs to be said, but a lot of the time it just doesn’t.

What I don’t understand is how this pressure came about, and I say pressure because that’s all logic will give me.  I sat at a bar the other day having lunch and when you do that you automatically overhear conversations, particularly when on your own.   Two gentlemen were together, and from the content of their discussion it was apparent they were friends, decided detective me.  It was not all unpleasant, but honestly, I did not understand why most of it was important enough to be said.  What, I wondered, would be so abominable about finishing tuna on rye without mentioning a gift certificate one received a year ago to a different restaurant or when to cover the pool?  If they would have been husband and wife the pool cover might have made sense, but that was not the case.  One man told the other about talking to his wife about it.  Is that a conversation?  I may be coming off as harsh, but I am trying to be scientific, get to the origin of the necessity to fill what has apparently come to be sensed as a void, when all lack of words is, is quietness or quieter.   I have heard of some that practice hours or even a day of silence, but I am not being that extreme (if that is even extreme).  These men were not from that group of people.  It’s possible that they saw each other rarely enough so that they felt they needed to say as much as they could while they were together whether it was impactful or not, but I don’t think so.

Not speaking is not equated to being a bore, although I grant you that’s a tougher line to sell at a party.  When a person talks about someone else being the “life of the party”, they are never referring to a verbally shy person, and often the success of a party is gaged on just how raucous it is.  Muted conversations and many exchanged understanding smiles don’t a rave review make.  But a party is an exception, as is a work function….although here too, why is silence so ungolden?  At a work function, someone will take it upon themselves to keep a conversation going even if it means raising painfully mundane topics, to which then people must work hard to keep the appropriate expression on their faces so that they are perceived as listening and entertained.  I suppose this could be looked at as an art form in its own right, and other silent communication takes place between the employees that are not speaking.  Those kinds of exchanged looks, what-have-you, are worth a million bucks because the people in question are trying to convey a lot of content with only their eyes so as to remain undiscovered by the conversationalist.  The various nuances around the table can amount to something astonishingly fun, cracker barrel lunacy.

Do animals do this?  Will two wrens tweet to each other about the twigs used to build their nests or that it’s a tough time of year to find bugs? Or dolphins.  No, I think dolphins most definitely do not have useless conversations.  I think they are spending too much time being graceful and beautiful that staying around to commiserate would dampen the joy.  I take that back.  I just looked at some pictures of them and was reminded of just how chatty they can be.  In fact, when my eldest son was a baby he made sounds like a dolphin so we called him “Flipper” for a while.   That animals are like us in that regard is comforting, and I suppose we are social beings, so talking, at least for many, is a requirement even to the point of what might be deemed excess by others.  We are typically seeking knowledge and talking is part of that, even if sometimes it’s more imparting than absorption.  Some like to talk, some sit back and take it all in, toss in a word or two to keep things lively, and some? Well some just natter. And while nattering is shallower than this particular writer likes, it is still hearty fuel for thought, and fills a need. I think I’ll return to that establishment this week and see what those gentlemen are up to.  Maybe even comment on the salt and pepper shakers.