Last month when I was visiting with a friend in my hometown of Aneta, ND, she mentioned a high school chum who regularly returns to Aneta for its summer festival in June. This chum lives an outwardly successful life in a large urban area, yet still seems to enjoy returning to the small-town rural charm of Aneta and reconnecting with the people she grew up with. But something in their conversations has begun to bother my friend.
It seems that my friend and her chum usually bump into each other before or after Aneta’s small parade on Saturday, and invariably they have a warm and friendly chat for a few minutes before moving on. At first, these conversations were very satisfying, with the polished urban person asking appropriate questions and apparently enjoying the conversation. But lately my friend has realized that her chum asks the same questions every year, not unlike the movie Groundhog’s Day.
Although the repeated questions might not be immediately insulting, my friend has gradually become insulted because she has concluded that her chum is merely deploying her social graces in answering the appropriate questions and is not actually listening to or remembering her answers.
I think my friend is right.
One of my happy-hour friends complains that I often ask him the same question on multiple occasions, and I have to confess that this happens when I am making conversation with him instead of being hugely interested in what his answer is.
Don Imus has the same problem. Several times I’ve noticed him ask a guest something that I recalled he asked the same guest several weeks ago, and occasionally the guest will even point that out. Obviously, Don was making conversation in the earlier interview and didn’t particularly care what the guest’s response was (even though Imus takes great pride in asserting that, unlike other media interviewers, he actually listens to the answers and then lets those answers dictate the direction of the interview).
So, is this a teaching moment? I’m not sure. Obviously, it would be nice to be sincerely interested in your conversation, consistent with that old saying, “Be here now.” But sometimes a person is engaged in casual conversation that is not significant.
Do I want to waste my scarce brain cells remembering that? I vote yes, and I’m going to redouble my efforts here.