By Tinky Ningombam
It was some years back, just a couple of days old in my corporate life; I was chatting with a group of my colleagues in my cafeteria and the TV happened to be on with some Breaking News. The news was on something rather mundane yet dramatized and milked for about 15 minutes. I objected to it, on wasting 15 minutes about an actor spotted in some market and commented on the futility of the news report and the waste of this expensive air time which could have been employed to meaningful stories: stories about crime or injustice, about people who never have a voice. Just in the midst of my jingoism, I had a senior colleague debate further and tell me that TV cannot be all about crimes and wars and politics, it needs entertainment even for the most educated of the lot.
Upon retrospection, I realize now that I was wrong, that I spoke too soon, me being a fresh fiery college graduate and quite vocal against consumerism, against systems and against any form of the Orwellian “thought-policing” per se. I wasn’t willing to agree to her then. Because to a rational, educated and self-proclaimed responsible citizen, these were meaningless jabber. But as I aged, for the better, I have learnt that even in media, as in real life, we need “meaningless” activities and “meaningless” conversations and “meaningless” news too. The intelligent choice being that of our own, in picking the right dose of it.
How many people do you think will read about Brad Pitt’s new movie and how many will read a research report on the political history of the Labour Party? Populist stories are more entertainment based while we all know that there are only a very few concerned people who are really interested in news about crimes, about governance or about policy-making. These are necessary, yes, but very few are interested in it all the time. When I pick up newspapers, I will not just read through the gory headlines or war and crimes, I will want to spend time in the funnies section and the funnier classifieds that always have something amusing. Majority of the people are not programmed to be only interested in serious issues and news. Sometimes what we need is to have some “nonsense” in our lives every now and then.
And the same goes with conversations. Oftentimes, after a hard day of work and toil when you happen to land into a crowd of people, all you want to talk is nothing to do with your work. At times like these, one does not wish to hear arguments on whodunits or who needs to rule the country and why; because like your body the brain also needs some a time out. I believe here is when a real conversationalist knows how to hold it together. He/she will know how to talk about nothing in particular and yet have meaning in the conversation.
I have seen in quite a lot of circumstances and I am sure it is a universal situation, that when one enters into a new conversation with a group, one starts talking about the most recent breaking news. Now obviously depending on the kind of group you are in, you will pick the most appropriate topic. What fascinates me here is the one set of people who think that they should make someone else feel guilty because they have no comments on that particular topic. I am sure I am entitled to not be interested in a common topic and on my obvious choice to be silent. Not every conversation should be an IQ test of how ill-educated you are in what everyone else knows about. One of the deepest fears of people when they talk to someone is performance anxiety. What will they say, how will they be perceived, how will that sound to the other person? A good conversationalist is I believe someone who can make people talk about what they want to and not judge them by the triviality of the topic or the irrelevance of it to him/her. Time and again, we have found that small talk is one of the most important stepping stones to social interactions.
Like it or not, we are in a society which constantly judges and pushes us to only focus on the meaningful, the productive, the rational thing to do in our lives. Disciplinarians normally clock their daily activities, efficiently utilizing every minute of every day spent and every conversation monitored. As life gets more and more complicated, each activity becomes rationalized and practical, each conversation becomes veiled and double-meaning. There is an unconscious competition amongst us to prove our wit and our efficacy that spoils life of its fun and spontaneity. And I believe somehow that unplanned small talks, the lazy days of meaningless activities calm us from the perpetual race that we run. Sometimes meaningless replays of a cat slapping a dog in breaking news become the most entertaining conversation amongst your group of friends.