The Great Disconnect

I am a social animal. I like being with people and I like talking with them. Lately, I’ve been experiencing a disconnect with others that I find very disconcerting. Somewhere along the line, I’ve lost the art of conversation.  Here are some of the typical conversations I’ve had over the past few months.

I’m asked, “What have you been up to?”
What I’ve been up to is spending hours cutting coupons from the stack of fliers that have accumulated on my kitchen counter over the past two months. This is very lame compared to the doing’s of most other people I know, so my standard response is: “Nothing. What about you?”

Or I’m asked, “What’s new?”
This is on the tip of my tongue: “Well, I cleaned the bathroom today. The fumes from the bleach messed with my olfactory nerves, and a result my coffee tasted funny for the rest of the day.” But I bite my tongue and  reply: “Nothing. What about with you?”

Sometimes I’m asked this variation: “What have you been doing lately?”
The unvarnished truth is, I’ve been rearranging the dishes in the dishwasher so the place reserved for frying or baking pans is not filled with little cereal bowls. (Jeff, in answer to your question: this reserved frying pan niche is my own personal preference. I have no idea what use the dishwasher manufacturer actually intended for this spot.) My summer has also been spent trying to keep my heels smooth. But I don’t share these exciting tid-bits; I simply say: “Nothing. What about you?”

Not only do my answers disturb me, but I notice the relish and detail with which others answer those questions. Most people can talk at great length about what they and their children have been doing. But my lack of response adds an air of awkwardness to the conversation. What happened to my confabulating skills? How can I have a blog that touts confabulation, yet have forgotten how to do it?

I examine this disconnect, trying to find its source. Maybe if I did more, I’d have more to talk about. But I don’t have time or money to do more than I’m already doing. Seclusion may be the answer. If I don’t talk to people, I don’t have to worry about having conversations.

Then I have an opportunity to talk to a drummer (he’s teaching me to cut lemons and limes properly)and I’m giddy at the thought of a conversation centered on drumming. There are a million questions I’d like to ask. So I take a deep breath and ask him who his favorite drummers are. His response is not the enthusiastic one I’d expected. He names a few and continues cutting lemons. “What do you think of Dave Grohl?” I ask. OK, maybe it’s not the best question, but my conversational skills have been off lately. At least I’m trying.

He doesn’t answer. He simply continues with the demonstration. I swear I can talk and learn to cut lemons at the same time. But that conversation was not meant to be.

I’m disappointed, but it has given me another aspect of the art of conversation to think about. The missing pieces fall into place when I read a few blog posts. I left a comment on Clayriver, and he responded with a question that I had to really think about before I answered. Then I read this post about Passion V. Addiction at What is Forty Two? and I found myself pondering that for a while. In fact, I’m still thinking about the question asked in response to my comment.

And I loved the pondering. And I loved their responses. And I loved the thought of getting a new perspective and sharing mine.

And then I understood. Somehow the art of conversation has been replaced by reciting a laundry list of things we do. I’m not saying that sharing the details of our lives is bad. It’s a great way to connect with others— the gateway for getting to know someone better. But somewhere along the way we lost the exploring and thinking  part of conversation.

I’d love to know your thoughts on the formation of the universe (actually, I really am not interested in your thoughts on the formation of the universe, but it sounded good for a second), or why you do or don’t believe in God, or what you think about Quentin Tarantino movies. If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear your thoughts on writing. And if you’re a drummer, there are a million questions I’d like to ask you.

But we’ve become accustomed to ignoring the things that could take us deeper. Even when we try to go beyond discussing what we do, things have become so politicized we’re afraid to talk about them. So we play it safe, and stick to talking about what we do. That’s a tough place to be when you’re cleaning toilets and thinking about the stars.


17 comments on “The Great Disconnect

  1. Thank you for the kind words.

    I happen to agree with you. I believe that nowadays a lot of emphasis is put on what a person does as opposed to what a person thinks. Everyone wants to know what I am doing and not what I am thinking. I find it tedious to explain that I spend a lot of time reading blogs and learning from them or that I spent the day with myself walking around Mumbai. Since, these are not things which make me money or technically ‘jobs’ where I am busy or pretending to be busy from 9-5, a lot of people look at me strangely when I say ‘nothing’. How does one explain how much I am learning nowadays or how busy I really am.

    I think people are just so busy being busy, they are no longer thinking or pondering. Perhaps, it is to because they are afraid of what they would discover. Or perhaps, they just don’t feel the need for it.

    We judge people by what they do and not what they think- I think that is a tragedy. It is amazing how much someone could teach me if I asked them what they think about xyz as opposed to what they do.
    We have forgotten Descartes’ Cogito Ergo Sum- I think therefore I am. It has now been replaced by I do therefore I am. Kind of sad really.

    Thank you for reminding me of this very crucial part of conversation.
    Next time, I meet someone, I am going to break the ice by asking them what they think about xyz as opposed to what they do.


    • It is sad, but I think it’s just become the habit to talk about what we do. I’m guilty myself; it took me a while to realize it. And I think breaking the habit is going to be difficult, but I’m going to try.

      It seems easier to discuss thoughts in something written, like a blog. Maybe because we have more time to think about what we want to say.

      Thanks for your thoughts. Now it’s back to work for me 😉


      • I am much more articulate when I am writing. Somehow, I am able to focus all my thoughts when I am writing. While speaking/talking, my thoughts run wild and my brain thinks of too much at the same time which I want to articulate- I find myself jumping from thought to thought and often leave sentences unfinished and move on to something different.

        BTW, I met someone new the other day and instead of asking him what he does, I asked him for his opinion on certain current events. It was good and I got some interesting angles out of this conversation. And I have you to thank you for that. 😀


      • I’m much more articulate when I write too. I need time to get my thoughts in order and when I’m speaking I just spit words out before I’m sure what I want to say.
        I’ve also realized that I have a different vocabulary when I write. It’s more eloquent than my “speaking” vocabulary.

        It’s great that you didn’t ask what he did right off. I hope I remember that the next time I meet someone new! Thanks.


  2. It’s okay to not be perfect at making conversation all the time. I think you are on the right track with asking lots of questions. You are putting in a good effort, and I think that your sincerity in showing interest in someone is more important than hard conversation skills.

    I wonder if society really does value money over education and personal growth. Almost every individual I talk to laments how money is made too important in our society, yet our society is a collection of individuals. It makes me wonder if people value things differently individually versus being in a group. I’ve seen this at my high school – a lot of kids complain about how cliquey it is, yet most of them are in some form of a clique themselves. Sorry for getting off topic of your post and rambling so much…. 🙂


    • Now that I know what my problem is with conversation, I have to start working on improving. I wanted to ask the drummer lots of questions because I was interested in drumming. Unfortunately, I don’t always think to ask questions of others. Another thing to work on.

      I think we’ve lost the true meaning of education without realizing it and it these days it revolves around financial security rather than learning.

      Feel free to ramble here anytime. 😉


      • I agree with you guys. Education has become a way of making money and the emphasis has shifted from learning to just ensuring that a great job is waiting at the end of college. For some reason, we have all forgotten to learn for the fun of it or to even learn what we enjoy even if it doesn’t necessary add to our resume.

        I noticed this a lot in law school. People were running around doing anything and everything to build their resume. Somehow, I never did that and stuck to doing exactly what I enjoyed. Interestingly enough, I happened to get my dream job anyway at the end of it.

        We forget that money will come- it may not be millions but it will be enough to allow us to enjoy a decent lifestyle. Unfortunately, nowadays everyone wants to make millions even if it means not living a life.

        We live in a sad world.


  3. Your quite right that conversation is often reduced to a stream of cliches. Sometimes its more about being polite than communicating. Anyway s the thoughts you have are often more important than the events you go through while your having them, and you have plentyof thoughts. On that score no one can say you are inactive


    • Sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt for my inactiveness, but you have put it in proper perspective. I feel much better, because my mind is never inactive. (That’s not to say the thoughts are always centered on “good” things).


  4. Your world isnt quiet, still or shallow.

    Its a life bent by the twists and turns of loss and despair, then tempered by love and justice. Some view life by what is gained, I view it by what was lost. For not having it is of no measure, its full import is only when its gained… then lost.

    Conversations should be more than news, they should be about reactions.


    • Thanks for your thoughts. It’s easy to forget (or avoid the fact) that nothing’s ever fully appreciated until it’s been lost or is in danger of being lost.

      I’m curious what kind of reactions you’re talking about? There are gut reactions and reactions based on thoughtful consideration. And then there are the reactions that involve doing something about the issue.


  5. Its the reactions to events that define us. Its not the events themselves; they are ordinary, bit players and history is filled in them. But its the reactions we as individuals have in the events that make us human. Its the choices we make with them that show our fears, our motivations, our failures and our successes.

    Everyone has a Hamlet day, or a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern one. Its the reactions to the events that make either tragic life or simple comedy.

    Good peace to you and farewell for now.


  6. Thank you. It was a pleasure to read this. It would make an intriguing blog post.


  7. I just wanted to let you know that the quality of my conversations has increased ever since I started asking ‘What do you think?” as opposed to “What do you do?”

    Thank you.


  8. Dawne, just thought I’d let you know that I am developing a post on the idea of ‘what do you do’ v. ‘what do you think’. Its been bugging me for a while now and I have been thinking about it a lot. Thought I’d do a post on it.


    • I’m glad you got so much from this and I got so much from your obsession vs. passion posts. Hopefully we’ll keep giving each other ideas for posts. Good ideas are the hardest part for me 😉

      Good luck with the post. I’m looking forward to reading it.


  9. […] since I read this post by Dawne, I have been thinking about the ideas expressed therein and our subsequent confabulation […]


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