To Converse or Not

Musings / Saturday, September 3rd, 2011
The past few days I have been having an interesting conversation with a blogger friend of mine, one who I have never met. A conversation through emails. Discussions about the risks/benefits of taking a career break, about the crutches that women need to identify themselves with, and about the difficulties in leading an unconventional life in conventional society. It was a conversation that I enjoyed, even though the thoughts moved through Internet cables and the only sound I could hear was the sound of my own listening.Ah, listening. And conversations. Today, where have these twins gone? One cannot truly exist without the other, yet so many conversations today seem to be one-sided. I observe in my friends, people I meet, an intractable need to speak. To be heard. Over the years, I have used my natural shyness in conversation to my advantage. I use shyness to listen. So as people talk, volubly, and often incessantly about their lives, I provide the only crutch they require – an ear to hear. And listening doesn’t just mean lending an ear. It’s also about asking the right questions, to coax the person to talk more, to be genuinely interested in the person who is talking. And surely, we have to be interested in our friends, right? Or else, what are we friends for? Yesterday, I spent an enjoyable day with an old friend. She was understandably excited about her new job as a Project Manager in a suitably big company (yayay for her), and much of the talk revolved around that. I didn’t mind – listening to people offers me fascinations that often translates itself into writing. And sometimes, understanding. She has worked hard to reach this position, and reaching this position means a lot to her.

I am different. If I had pursued the cold hard path of corporate materialdom, after 8+ years, I would not be without a job as I am right now. I would have been as many of my friends are – drawing the big salaries, talking the big talk about corporate metrics, climbing the way on to the next rung on the ladder. These days, my sister often asks me why I left my job. I am sure it’s a question that many of my friends also would have left unsaid. HR managers look at my CV askance – just what I am doing in life? Two years teaching English in China, four years in an investment firm, a few other years here and there in content management – surely, don’t I want to settle down professionally? I don’t laugh at them – I laugh at myself. It’s a sorry career path. Yet, I cannot and will not regret it. I have grown more through these experiences I have sought than I could have sitting at a desk. These past few months in China gave me beautiful friendships and more cherished experiences. Still! How few of my ‘friends’ here in India have really wanted to ask me about this? I don’t believe in talking about myself, or about my life unless I am asked about it. There has to be interest from the other. Nearly every other friend has asked one standard question. “So, how was it?” To which I reply, ” Oh! It was great, superb, fantastic. Made a lot of good friends.” I stop. I am waiting for the other person to resume the little art of conversation – the little nudges that make a person go on. I would think, maybe then the friend would ask, ” so tell me, about them, your friends…” Sadly, no one did. They take that one-liner as the end. And continue with talking about their life. Sometimes, I wonder. Really, is this conversation? Since when has this word come to mean self-aggrandizement? Self-promotion? A rattle and prattle about the self? Why can’t we have conversations where we take and give a little from each others lives? To me, that’s the real deal. The in-thing. The real management of friendships. And conversations.

PS: This isn’t a rant against friends, they are all dear to me. This is just a wonderment that perhaps we really ought to revive those lost twins of listening and conversation.

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