FOR THE new social season now upon us, make a special effort to learn to stop communicating with one another, so that we can have some conversation.
Miss Manners realizes that it was last year's national goal for everyone to communicate, and she appreciates what an effort that was. Especially the part about having to communicate the need for communication. But it wasn't very interesting, was it? Miss Manners' hope is that, having learned to communicate, people have now rid themselves of their emotional backlogs, and are willing to return to talking like civilized people.
In communication, people express their true feelings, and tell everything about themselves with complete honesty, holding back nothing except their last names.
"Hi," a good communicator will open, "I'm Josh!" Or "I'm Lisa!" And by the end of the soup course, you will know how this person feels about our environment, the role of women, an ex-spouse and/or recent ex-lover, joggers, Humphrey Bogart, people who are not afraid to show their feelings, people who are not afraid to be vulnerable, the materialistic society, the media, what people would eat if they knew what was good and the rewards of working with people.
A true communicator will take the trouble to find out your name and to insert it into his recital often, the way form letters are now able to do through the wonders of technology. A form question will appear now and again, also, inviting the communicatee to fill in his or her taste preferences, but only if they confirm those started. (Can you imagine trying to tell such a person that you didn't like Humphrey Bogart movies, or had never seen any?) Because the communicator is telling all, many of these questions will be what used to be called nosy, and still should be.
Such exchanges are achieved more efficiently by buttons, T-shirts and bumper stickers. These are available ready-made to announce one's politics, preferences and availability, so there is no need to devote time to them that could otherwise be pleasantly spent in conversation.
True conversation cannot be preprinted. One must bring ready-made ingredients, such as information, experience, anecdotes and opinions, prepared to have them challenged and to contribute to a new group effort. That is what conversation is: developing and playing with ideas by juxtaposing the accumulated conclusions of two or more people and then improvising on them.
It is none of the following.
Gossip about oneself. The preliminary to conversation consists of asking and stating personal information, but that is only for the purpose of choosing a real topic. As soon as a common interest has been found, the quizzing should be stopped and the developing of conversation start.
Recitals. Conversation being an exchange, long stories, such as jokes or travelogues, cannot be included unless they are abbreviated and offered in illustration of the conversation's idea.
News. Startling bulletins may be effective in suggesting ideas, but the popular notion that being able to recite accurately current political and cultural news makes one a conversationalist is erroneous. The person who has actually read the book that everyone is supposed to be talking about is a menace unless everybody is really talking about it.
Advertisements. From the direct sales pitch to a play for the goodwill of influential people, the rule is that if it is designed to advance your career, it isn't conversation. The same is true of public service announcements, such as recommending one's therapist or one's diet. :MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: I would very much like to know what you think of people who put paper napkins in napkin rings. Me -- I'm a no-ring-at-all person.
A: Putting a napkin ring around a paper napkin is like putting a baby bonnet on a pet monkey: It's kind of cute, but it doesn't fool anybody.