The purpose of leisure, talking with each other, is clearly to enjoy the pleasure of affable company, and also to listen and become inspired by what we hear. But excessive drinking soon peels off the foil of civilization that we expected to enjoy. A couple I know well hosted a small gathering, but one of the members of the company showed up more than half drunk. When the rest of the company saw this person, their hearts sank into their shoes. This half drunken person always lowers the tone of any group they go to.
Until advent of this person, the gathering was polite and friendly. But no sooner had this person sat down, not only did they not test the waters or try to discover what people had been saying, they instead began to bleat and bray noisily and disconcertingly, and, unfortunately this person was self centered uncouth, coarse, and the incessant drinking has hammered their wits flat. This person had no liveliness s of wit – it was all elephantine facetiousness.
The insights of others are vivid stimulants for our own minds. To shrink from another’s knowledge because it is fuller than ours is to miss an opportunity to learn from their talents and their experience. Since this person, infected by the vanity that likes to make an entrance, blunders in thoughtlessly, and the level of noise shot up dramatically after they sat down. Other people were drinking, and the noise was increasing, as you would expect, but this endless source of braying added nothing except a level of fraying annoyance. This person has, again and again, exhibited only a very, very narrow range of intelligence, an extremely limited outlook, and a very clumsy and narrow emotional range. This person’s view is the sour view of the wormhole. Yet this person simply barges insensitively ahead at full volume.
It is a rule of successful sociability that conversation should not be competitive. It is not a contest to see if one person sounds more cultured or more intelligent or better read than the rest. Leisure gathering represent a time out. No group of hearers would stand for loud, vain predominance, drunk or sober.
But drunks don’t care about niceties. They are blindly selfish people. They want to be heard at all costs; they want to be conspicuous at all costs, and in the end they are unbearable at all costs. They resort to lordly condescension as they address others, seeing them as inferior capacities, without realizing that those inferior capacities are laughing at them.
Their minds have no steadying focus. The pointer of their compass is missing. When they talk, they are all over the lot. They meander listlessly, obeying random and contradicting impulses. They have no aim other than to hear their own voices, and they suddenly switch tracks without warning in order to take up another.
A sober person very quickly tires of chit chat, but people who drink have not the least trace of urgency. The more they drink, the more they wallow in pointless chatter. The details of life have no hierarchy for them. To them, one thing is as good as another. Often people who are drunks are physically unfavored because too much alcohol over a long period has ruined their looks. If people have let their bodies go to seed, what do you think has happened to their minds? They simply like to expand on certain topics because they have listeners, but their lives contain no events, so a story about how one of this drunken person’s cat put to flight a dog who had intruded into their yard, is told over and over again, like a Homeric poem until people are on the verge of opening their veins.
Apparently, the most important fact of life is their presence in it. Their compass always pointed to the dreary north of Self. The focus never wavers, and it never changes, never modifies. The events of the world are distorted to fit their egotistic cravings to stand out, as if earning begrudging applause would act to free themselves of their own misgivings and inner insufficiencies.
At this gathering, no one said anything that wasn’t hum drum, but some guests who attended, soon discovered that long-term couples like to correct each other. A woman and a man have been together a decade is suddenly asked by his partner to tell the group when they met. He can’t remember. The wife stings him mildly, but he clearly has no interest in answering. He finally says that it was in 2005, and she corrects him primly, saying that it was in 2004, and he agrees, and we, the listeners, are rapidly going mad with boredom. The exact date holds no meaning for us. Why does it matter? It doesn’t. Nor does having the correct date add anything to anyone. The conversation drags on mainly because both have been drinking, and it is boring because nothing is at stake.
Things at stake. Drama occurs because something is at stake that makes the listener pay attention. For example, a couple is lying in bed on a Saturday. The postman rings. The wife tells the husband, “You get it,” and he says, “No, you get it, you have a robe, and I’m naked.” And she replies “No, you get it.” The postman rings again. He says, "Why do we have to get it?”, and she says, “Because I’m expecting a check.” “What check?” he asks. The post man rings. “What check?” Asks the astounded husband. The postman is ringing for the fourth time. “What check?” She says, “It’s a healthy refund from our income taxes,” and explains that they need it to pay outstanding bills. The postman rings yet again. The man explodes, “Well, one of should get it!” and the wife says, “I’ll get it!” and gropes for a robe, and she goes to the door to find the postman gone.
That sketch is hardly profound, but it contains the germ of something that has the promise of becoming dramatic, mainly because something real was at stake.
There is nothing at stake in chit chat. People at a gathering are like kids with sacks of toys that they want to empty out on the ground whether the listeners would enjoy seeing the toys or not. So what is at stake in chit chat? Usually it’s self display. People like to retail anecdotes that flatter them and put them in a good light. Admiration is expected, thus we have the Homeric hymn about the cat routing a dog.
The topics of such gatherings are increasingly hum drum. A lot of discussion centers on the kind of smart phones they have, their high tech cameras, which technology is best for their TV -- Direct TV versus Time Warner, ITunes versus a competing sound system,etc. The arguments and counterarguments go on for a some time, and when the discussing ceases. No one has agreed to anything. Their opinions remain just as they were. No one has learned anything new. All the listener has witnessed is a display of personal preferences.
Unfortunately, drunks usually offer no insights. The insights of others are vivid stimulus for the minds, but to shrink from another’s knowledge because it is fuller than ours is to miss an opportunity to learn from their talents and their experience. Not to listen is simply a way of walling up your mind until the only thing you hare are your own clichés.
So beware of chit-chat. It takes no talent on either side of a conversation to ask how the weather is, or what was the latest restaurant you visited, and how good it was, or how often your neighbor’s car goes in or goes out of their garage, or the latest film you have seen or whether your music system is more up to date than your neighbors. And don’t bore your hearers nor let them bore you about recitals about the stresses of childrearing, and how you are trying to live your own missing fulfillment through a gifted child, or having to hear the complaints about what an ex-husband or ex-wife did not do as they were expected to do after the breakup of their marriage. It is disheartening to see adult people becoming shrill, the nerves in their neck standing out in the strain of shifting the moral responsibility for the break up from them to their ex- roommate. Their attitude of complaint ignores any questions of what they themselves left undone in the marriage in their anxiety to inflame their festering feelings of persecution. People getting a divorce often exhibit no insight, no self questioning, but a lot of accusing vindictiveness. It pays to remember that true knowledge rejoices in true knowledge.
In any case, no one on Earth can pass a quiz of any kind after spending an hour and a half in chit-chat. Not only do others already know what you know, they know it in the same way, and they know it from the same banal sources, at the same time, and, like you, then can offer nothing new or insightful because they are too busy to try and develop even adequate talents of expression. Chit-chat is simply the dead man’s float of the human mind. For the sake of your sanity, I would suggest that all of us should stay clear of it!