Wednesday, April 14, 2010

currency of talk

Talking is a funny thing. As a woman (or maybe just as a human, but I think that generally speaking, more women are invested in talking than men are), I find talking necessary to my health and mental well being (I'm thinking especially of a recent NYT article that suggests that meaningful conversations are linked to happiness). And as a rhetorician, of course, I'm fascinated by the different uses and functions of talking: cementing political agreements, filling empty air, developing relationships (friendship and romantic), setting people at ease, exploring ideas, exchanging information--the uses are seemingly endless.

If the uses of talk are varied, so too are the values we assign to it. I think as a society we tend to spend our talk pretty freely, despite the fact that talking can on occasion have costly consequences. I try (most of the time) to weigh my words--not, unfortunately, always out of consideration for the potential consequences, but because I think that I get measured by my words, that people assess my intelligence (among other things) by how eloquently I can put my words together. But even then, I sometimes find myself talking just to fill space (my dad once quipped that "Nature abhors a vacuum. And so does Rosalyn).

I suppose I'm thinking about talking right now because I spent most of last night talking, in two different social situations. In the first, I was invited to a book club discussion of Stegner's Angle of Repose (more on that later) by an old college friend of Dan's. This meant that I found myself in a room full of relative strangers (even the one I knew I didn't know well) who were gathered together in order to, well, talk. Because the environment was unfamiliar (my initial impression of the house--a large, newly built, expensively decorated home--was rather intimidating), I found myself weighing my words--and the words of others--more carefully than I normally would. And I'm not entirely sure I'm happy with what I found. In retrospect, I think I was too careful to say things that would sound smart without sounding *too* smart. And I'm not exactly happy with my initial judgment of the other women based on what they said. My initial, snap judgment was that most of the women there were the sort of conventional Mormon women whom I can admire but don't generally have much in common with aside from our shared faith (a judgment, I admit, drawn partly from their negative reactions to the main character, with whom I strongly identified on occasion). It wasn't until much later in the conversation that I realized that some of the comments, although not phrased as eloquently as my grad school peers could have phrased them, were actually quite perceptive.

In contrast to this weighted and measured talk (although I have to admit that the weighing was mostly on my part--I think the others, through long association with each other, were more generous in their talking--both less careful of their own words and less critical of others), I spent the next two hours of my evening talking with three other women (my neighbor generously invited me to her bi-monthly gathering of close friends just to talk) whom I've known for longer and no longer fear judgment from. Although this second gathering was much easier for me (the talk was less costly), I find myself still thinking about why so many women schedule time to gather with other women expressly for the purpose of talking. What is it about talking that matters so much to us? Why is talking about ideas so linked to personal happiness? Why do we care so much about talking as a vehicle for ideas, judging others on the grace or ineptitude of their vehicle, often with more severity than we do the idea itself?

1 comment:

  1. I like the NYT article---very interesting concept. Maybe I should call you sometime and we can have a substantive discussion about it. :)