Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Two Words

I have a terrible habit of not only listening to other people's conversations, but entering them on occasion.  I wasn't always this way.  With age, comes wisdom, right?  Sounds nice, but I know it's really the teacher in me.  I've guided too many discussions, wanting them to be like works of art, hoping the right question or response will trigger something more, something deeper, something uncomfortable, something thoughtful.  If I think I can be helpful, or offer advice on something they are struggling with, I'll speak up.  If someone has something on the tip of their tongue and just can't remember a person place or thing, and I can help, I will.  
More often than not, I'll be invited into a conversation, at least momentarily.  I've met some cool folks, some curious, knowledgeable, passionate, empathetic, and most of all friendly people that way.  So it was the other day that I found myself listening to a coffeehouse conversation among three people who just met.  One was interested in a book the other was reading, and the third just happened to sit next to them.  It took the form of one man, two women.  The guy was certainly amiable, but definitely trying to impress the two women.  He was a bit too sure of himself, a bit too "foo-foo," too new age babble, too airy fairy. 
 Me thinks the emperor has no clothes. 
So they are chatting along and suddenly one of the women turns the conversation to poverty.  She sincerely asks, "What do you think it'll take to rid the world of poverty?"  It was a rather abrupt turn of events, but my ears perked up.  The questioner had earlier mentioned that she worked for a community service agency.  Clearly she had a social conscience and wanted to know "Mr. has an opinion on everything's"  thoughts on a bigger issue.  
He proceeds to deliver a rambling response that can best be boiled down to the statement, "If I don't become poor myself, I'll be doing the world a favor.  He actually believed that it was his responsibility not to become poor.  That was the extent of his thinking on the subject.  
That's when I couldn't hold my tongue.
"Excuse me," I chimed in uninvited.  "Can I give you a two word answer to your question?"
All three, plus another woman at another table who was listening to it all as well, turned around and smiled. 
"Educate women," I said.
 Somebody said, "that's a good answer," as if we were on a daytime quiz show.  The others nodded and mumbled uh huhs.  No questions, no comments, no real response.
That was the extent of our interaction.  I went back to my keyboard, they returned to talking about other things. Later on I even thought maybe they didn't get it.  What I said could be taken a number of ways.  But they didn't even ask.  Probably thought I was just an intrusive old man.
 The trio left before I did.  They exited without as much as a nod.  
So it goes.

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