Meredith F. Small, an anthropologist, says our “social intelligence” is what has made humans such a successful species." We recognize and keep track of hundreds of relationships, and we easily distinguish between enemies and friends.” We run our lives by social calculation and most of it revolves around talking.
I used to think talking was just opening your mouth and letting sounds come out. There are unintended consequences to this type of lazy talking and now I take it seriously. I found it best to segregate the things I talk about with different people.
Here are a couple of examples: My friend Meg validates that I am a regular person because I act and talk regular around her. I have my Meg package: I can talk about trouble but I keep it light. I park the irony at the door.
The only things I can say to Hannah are: Do you have a good plumber? or How do you like your new car? I stopped telling Hannah anything when I realized that her reaction was going to be out of all proportion to what I was telling her. If I said I got some freelance work she would scream (yes, scream) what? What kind of work? And then pepper me with about fifty questions that I didn’t have the answer to and then question my decision.
The woman who checks me out at Waldbaum’s always asks if I’m going back to my country for the Holidays. I just say yes.
I try not to tell my children anything about my life that doesn’t end with: “it’s great.”
It’s easier to wrap your mind around talking that works if you separate it into five main categories:
Pleasantries: (best kept to a sentence or two) Nice day. Nice lawn. How's the wife. Cute kid. If you go beyond the second sentence, you will be embroiled in a pointless conversation that will be hard to end.
Informational talk: “Mrs. McNaughton you'd better sit down for this. We hear seven distinct heartbeats.” When you are receiving information, don’t be tempted to interject irony or humor or even sarcasm. Just say, “I see.”
Self-serving talk. “I had no knowledge of any dummy corporations being set up at Enron to divert money.” Don’t refute the speaker even if what he/she is saying is blatantly false. If it is something that alters your finances, just take it to a lawyer.
Inquisitorial talk: “Jeffrey, what do you mean when you say you like to cut up people?” If there’s nothing else you learn about talking, learn to answer what is asked with no elaboration. If someone asks, “Did you eat the last piece of pie?” a yes or no will suffice.
Confidential talk: If you are hell bent on confiding, become a Catholic and go to confession or talk to your mirror. This will spare you confessional remorse.
In the next day or two: How I learned to talk Part II.