04 December 2011

Friendliness vs. idle chatter

The growing lack of respect in American society has become all the more apparent to me since I have been travelling with the Bishop.

As one example, it is not at all uncommon for people - parents especially - to side right up to the Bishop to have their picture with him and their child and walk away without saying a word to him.

Others will shake our hands and say, "It's nice to meet you," without every introducing themselves.  We haven't met them at all.

Another example occurred to me this afternoon.  I was resting my sore joints in a hot tub this afternoon and reading a book at the same time before going for a swim (winter is here, you know).  An older woman - who, if I had to guess, belongs to the so-called "greatest generation" - entered the hot tub and said to me as she did so, "Another God book.  Did you drop the last one in the water?"

From the tone of her voice of couldn't tell if she was being friendly or being rude; one encounters all manner of people.  At any rate, her question was stupid and struck a nerve (some of us - though seemingly few in number [the question is often asked how I keep a book dry; it's easy: you just keep it out of the water] are able to read a book while sitting in a pool of water; it isn't rocket science).

Without looking away from the page, I answered, "No.  I finished it."

She continued to stand there looking at me.  Not really caring to engage her in conversation, I finally motioned toward the other end of the hot tub - it easily fits twelve people, I think - and said to go, "You can continue."

With a little huff she passed by me and looked back, saying, "I hope your God is friendlier than you are."

I didn't bother responding, though there are many things I could have said to her, and perhaps should have said to her.

Could I have been friendlier towards her?  Yes.  Should I have been?  Perhaps.  But if one wants to engage another person in a friendly conversation, asking a question that implies an inability to read a book properly isn't the way to do it.  Insulting someone whom you do not know with an attempted bit of humor isn't likely to be well received.  I could be reading too much into her question, but it seems to imply quite a lot.

If one wants to engage in a friendly conversation with someone, one should begin with such greetings as "Hello" or "Good afternoon."  One might even ask "How are you today?' or "May I ask what you are reading?"  Other people have done so and they have found me friendly enough.

One gentleman last week whom I hadn't seen in a while said to me, "I haven't seen you in a while."  Pointing to my book, he said, "It's still nonfiction," which ushered in a nice, friendly, short conversation after which he kindly let me return to my book.  If I see him again I will certainly greet him.

There seems to be a great confusion today between friendliness and talkativeness.  This woman, for example, proceeded to talk to everyone in the hot tub and later in the pool that she could, but not about them or about her; rather, she spoke about other people the whole time seemingly unknown - and at some length about me, who she does not know - to her conversationalists.  This isn't being friendly; this is the sort of talk that the spiritual writers often describe as idle chatter.

One can talk with someone for a good length of time and not care one bit about the person; that is not friendliness but mere talkativeness.  I've never enjoyed talking with busy-bodies and avoid them like the plague, in no small part because of their unfriendliness masquerading as friendliness.

I'm sure St. Thomas Aquinas has addressed this somewhere; I may have to look into it.


  1. My father always used to say, "Those who speak don't know, and those who know don't speak."

    I hated it when he would drag that out, I was far more gregarious as a child and young adult than I am, even now. Now I realize that, often, there is simply nothing to say.

  2. Having a somewhat argumentative personality, that's a lesson I'm continually learning.

    Thankfully, I beginning to be able to discern which people will correction at least decently and on which people a polite correction will simply be wasted. What's sad is that so many in this second category are the older, who really ought to know better.

  3. Seriously, Father? You have an "argumentative" personality? From what I've seen of you (granted, only online) you aren't argumentative at all!

    Anyway, for some odd reason this reminds me of my lifeguard years. We had a "sign in" sheet for lapswimmers for the early shift. We lifeguards would open the building and pull the cover off the pool at 5:30 am and put the clipboard out for the swimmers to sign in. That same thing would be put out for the evening lap swimmers, and one would NEVER sign in.

    My co-workers often spoke of her and called her the "shoe-string" lady because she tied the back of her suit together with shoestrings, obviously to keep the straps on her shoulders.

    They all lamented about how "rude" she was.

    I'd never found her to be "rude". So one day as she came in I asked her to sign in.

    She paused and told me, "Everyone asks me to do that but no one has been able to give me a good reason as to why I should!"

    I paused a moment because really...she was right. I hadn't ANY idea. So I said, "We're trying to get to know our customers better."

    She smiled then, and signed the sheet, knowing full well I'd just pulled that out of my keister!

    Every time after that, when I was on duty, she signed in, no problem. I don't know if she did with the other lifeguards.

    People are funny, and you never really know if they're being "rude" or just looking for a particular answer that trips their own sense of identity or humor.

    I gotta tellya...I'll never forget "shoestring lady". Or why she bought my BS! But I'll remember her fondly forever!