In the 1970s Woody Allen hit movie “Annie Hall”, Woody says with self-deprecating humour that he would not be able to join a club that would have him as a member or words to that effect; a sad indictment of his own neurosis. While I’m a member of the Melbourne Cricket Club, one of the top sports’ clubs in the world, I decided to form my very own club focusing on the significance of real communication; albeit The Conversation Club. I penned an earlier blog on Talk Is Cheap? in which I detailed how important talking to others is, indeed, even communing with yourself. But what is conversation really all about? Too often, people talk to each other without any real empathy or compassion, call it small talk where the accent is on articulating issues which are mostly banal and irrelevant; oft impersonal and irrational. It’s conversation for its own sake; try sitting in silence for minutes with someone and it’s almost unbearable; the deafening knell of isolation where you may as well be on your own. It can be an Academy Award winning performance; the mute togetherness feigning a fantasy of getting on with each other.
Instead however, we usually don’t sit in silence as it can feel uncomfortable and awkward; even eerie, so we pretend at communicating as too many people label it thus. For me, I’d rather be on my own than indulging in glib conversation; not conversation by my definition but just a sham of small talk.
The most important reason I wanted to be a journalist was because I hoped it would give me the opportunities to engage in conversation with people from all walks of life; which more often than not it did. When I considered being an interviewer (so-called) on TV as it was proposed to me as I was working in TV as a researcher, I watched journalists on TV in an altogether different perspective from the one I had while working on newspapers. TV interviews, even Michael Parkinson, mostly asked questions of their interviewee, without any engagement of what I believe to be, real conversation. Indeed, while I never watched much of Andrew Denton in his interview series Enough Rope; he apparently talked about himself too and was labelled an egoist because of it. Yet, isn’t that the way to really communicate with someone; sharing experiences together, not just a manufactured automaton firing off questions without listening to the answers. I know from my years on newspapers (at least when I had the time) that I often talked about my own experiences too, designed, without any conscious premeditation, to open the dialogue and really communicate. Too often on TV, it is just question and answer time rather than a two-way conversation, where communication doesn’t exist. I also found much of a similar focus in farcical job interviews; those where the potential employer fired off written and prepared questions without wanting or being interested in conversation. The job interviews that I remember because I got the job were often more than two hours long where we really engaged in getting to know each other; as I was as interested in finding out about my possible employer as much as he/she may have wanted to find out about me as an employee. Furthermore, it is my disgust and horror at the psychiatric profession that it too is a totally lopsided exchange; more question and answer time and dare to ask a shrink a question; and they don’t answer it; after all, you’re the sick patient. Moreover, too often they don’t even know what questions to ask. The focus, albeit unconscious (I’ll give some of them the benefit of THAT doubt) is more to do with playing power games, never honest enough to reveal where they’re coming from, let alone their attitudes, values and opinions about the complexities and confusions about being a female in a man’s world as I sadly discovered decades ago. If that’s called therapy, I walked out on it a very long time ago. Instead, I started talking to myself a lot more and trying to pick my own psyche to discover more about myself. It worked for me.
But how many people are even genuinely interested in who they talk to? I’ve considered many times so-called friendships where the effort in eliciting a conversation has too many times come from me; I have to ask questions to get the ball rolling(often even that fails, too) and there are no questions coming from the person I’m with. They do most of the talking and know so little about me. Yet, they have called themselves friends; when so obviously, they’re just not interested in me at all. My sister is the same too and I’ve wondered for too many years why these so-called friends, including my sister and other members of my family, have wanted to see me at all. It is a non-conversational waste of time from my perspective. Who are the real egoists? Asking questions of someone should not have to be a conscious decision; indeed, I believe it should just emanate from within because you are sincerely interested in really conversing with the person you’re with. But that is not how many, many people live; often too focused on themselves to be really interested in me, at least. Or they’ve already assumed about me from other sources of information, so-called.
My Conversation Club is not for them; indeed, I will be very selective about who I allow to join my inner circle of comrades though membership is free. So what are the credentials needed to become a member? It’s basic; talking with each other, not at each other, and just being really interested in each other. There would be lots of question time, too, but it’s reciprocal and rewarding, with lots of personal and impersonal experiences and anecdotes shared mutually. There might be a few seconds of silence, even minutes, too; time to absorb what the person has said and reflect on it too in order to follow on with real engagement. It’s a two or three way communication, whatever, where people can let themselves go; even be angry, argumentative, challenging and confronting with voices raised instead of a monologue of mousey mediocrity. Emotional or mental abuse however is a no go area; no malicious much-raking or mud-slinging, just an exchange of ideas, thoughts, beliefs, experiences and feelings. Conversation to me is an art; it is the creative outlet for us all, though far too often people are too shy, too frightened, too threatened even, to really engage with another person. Maybe it’s the fear of being known; too many people opt for the safety of secrets; reveal too much of yourself and you’re vulnerable to exploitation? A silent conspiracy of self to stop others from being close. A paranoia of sorts where covert obscurity is preferred to sharing yourself with others. I don’t like it and never have; my club is not about hiding the self but on the contrary, revealing our self; through real and natural talk with others. Maybe in part we can remain private; but how much of ourselves is too much? It’s a question I’ve often asked myself as sometimes when I’ve engaged in conversation, or tried to, I’ve been told – “too much information”; especially where sex is concerned. Where do you draw the line? That’s something my club would discuss in itself; should some issues and some topics be out of bounds, reserved for personal reflection only? I’m not sure; but I’ve often wondered about why so many so-called ‘love’ partnerships end without the partners even really knowing each other in the first place. Is it because too few people really know themselves? Or what to share? How to communicate beyond the bedroom? Where does the language of talk rate in the love (lust?) game?
Membership to join also has absolutely NO restrictions; not age, gender, sexuality, colour, religion, or political perspectives. But there is also NO time for assumptions; ask questions, How? In what way? Why? When? Who? What do you mean? Get your fellow conversationalist to spell it out; clearly, lucidly, so there can be no mistake what the person is talking about and why he/she is talking in that way? In that tone of voice? Listen carefully; what is the person really saying? What lies underneath that subtlety of tone? Or is it loudly obvious? Is it a power trip? Are we really equal human beings? Or is one fighting for superiority over another? It’s certainly hard to clarify, but the club will NOT tolerate arrogant or grandiose illusions of communication!
Where to meet? Anywhere you want to talk with another; the venues can be in your home, at a bar, at work when time permits, or your local coffee shop, whenever and wherever the mood becomes you. I look forward to seeing how many members want to join!