What is memorable and notable about mundane and ordinary interactions? Today I went to a place that I regularly go to in order to enjoy a nice meal and a good view of a football game, and as is often the case I was asked about what book I was reading and how far along in it I was. Since I had not seen the particular waitress/bartender in a week, I found it amusing that she was surprised that I was reading and nearly finished with a different book today than I had been reading last week. Alas, though, I am still behind on writing book reviews and have at least a dozen or so books that are piled up awaiting my writing about them, many of which are from very patient publishers who probably deserve me saying something about their offerings in a more timely fashion than is often the case.
Later on, when I was chatting online, someone was telling me a story about their playing a particular first person shooter type of game and I asked aloud what is perhaps one of those quiet parts of social interaction that I do not always manage to succeed at very well, and that is asking what kind of response was desired to the story that I did not understand nor particularly care about all that much. When the person talking just said that they were trying to tell their story I gave a reply and it was translated (accurately) as my saying: “understandable, have a nice day.” And I replied that summed it up pretty accurately, which led to laughter all around.
It is hard to be a good listener. I do not claim to be one myself, and I certainly see a lot of other people who are terrible listeners, but it is admittedly hard to be a good listener for a variety of reasons. One of the most obvious reasons is that we listen while looking for opportunities to talk. I know I get frustrated with people who just want me as an audience to pay attention to them and listen to them drone on about the same few things over and over and over again, something that I find very tedious and unpleasant and taxing on my time. At the same time, I know how much self-expression and having an appreciative audience is important to me, so it’s not like I lack empathy with others who have the same needs for an appreciative audience, it’s just I don’t like being asked to perform that role for other people who are unwilling to reciprocate with me.
It is not only that we want to talk when other people want to unburden themselves that makes listening hard. As a listener, one often has a hard time knowing what role others want. Are you wanted merely to passively listen to words so that someone feels that they are freeing themselves of the burden of having things in their heart and mind that they are unable to communicate to others? This seems to be the case often. To the extent that people want feedback or want help, these things are easy to find, since it is gratifying to a listener to be able to comment or critique what is being said or to be able to suggest solutions to problems. Most often, though, people speak not looking for others to talk back to them, but to listen to them and to act like what is being said is profound and interesting and intelligent, none of which is often the case. It is funny to me, at least, when people acknowledge that they simply want to talk and want you to listen, and at least make it clear what their expectations are.