Monday, 28 November 2011

Here Lieth the Art of Conversation

I don't like to talk. I find that I spend the better part of my day not talking.  My job does not require me to be on the phone constantly (thank God!) And, when I do make presentations because of my job, they are scheduled, timed and completed.   I do like that aspect of my job - very much.  I enjoy making the presentations and interacting with the audience.  After that, though, it's like, "There, there.  We're done," and I go back to the company car, turn the volume up on the Country channel I've pre-set in all the cars (it must drive my colleagues crazy!) back to the office then, later on to the sanctum of home.  Home.  What a wonderful place to be.

For, we know it's not just the house that makes a home.  It's the people who are there or the person with whom you share it.  Or, the people or person with whom you don't share it.  Know the old Jamaican saying? "See me and come live with me - two different things."  True that, Ruthie.  True that.  I also recall a quip that a former manager of mine made many years ago.  Something ...rather someone had annoyed her that day.  She said, "Claudia, I just tell myself I'm not taking them home with me."  Nice, eh?  Yeeaah.  That has worked for me over the years.

So, sometimes when I arrive home, I mightn't get engaged in a conversation.  And that suits me just fine.  Other times, I may connect with family or one, maybe two, close friends.  I think those after-work connections  - whether at home or on the way home - are often with people with whom you feel you can unwind.  Even just a little.  The conversation relaxes you; sometimes you vent; sometimes you burst out laughing, the people on the train take a quick glance before going back to their BBs or newspapers.

One of the things that irk me is meaningless conversation.  I'm not talking about the social tradition of initial small talk about the weather or an item of news that is shared between strangers.  Yes, it is meaningless, more often than not; participated in just to pass the time, really.  But, I'm talking about chatter that beats a dead horse - to glue; talk that comes only because the speaker likes to hear him/herself talk; talk for the sake of talking - nothing else; the constant droning on and on and on because silence makes the speaker uncomfortable.  Ever get that?  Or, when you're talking with someone but you feel it in your bones that the convo is going nowhere - fast.  And, you probably start repeating stuff you'd said earlier in the convo - way back when.  Ever get that?

You know, even when they are jovial and funny to the point of rib-tickling, I want my conversations to be meaningful.  I want to get something meaningful out of every conversation, each encounter.  Is it too much to ask that if I make the effort and show up, that I should expect to leave with something, y'know, other than the query, "Whom do I see about getting those ___ minutes of my life back?"   I'm not saying every conversation should be serious.  I'm saying every conversation should be meaningful; should have some value.  Darn it!

I imagine that's why we surround ourselves with the people we do - especially close friends.  Over time, you draw to you people with like values, interests, blah, blah blah.  They get you and you get them and there's little to no need to explain ...yourself.  That's comfort, right there.   I have two Ceciles in my life. Just remembered this joke. I was visiting with one of them in New York years ago, while the other was living in Florida. When we got home, she checked her messages. One of them started out, "Hi Cecile. This message is for Claudia from the other Cecile." So funny. They're both like sisters to me, yet worlds apart from each other.  But, I digress.  There are times when one of my Ceciles - any of the two - will call. Even though we know it's just a "hello" call, in short order, we're talking about something that is of import to either or both of us.  You'll probably say, yes, that's what friends talk about.  And you're right.  My point is, I have come to recognize the value of those conversations; more and more, I don't want to waste my time participating in something that is just a waste of time.  Sure, we should all try to come away with something from each encounter.  And I do try.  I also try to give something in each encounter.  But, there must be at least one other that shares this sentiment: Some talkers just waste your time.   (And, it's worse when I'm hungry.  "I'm not me when I'm hungry," to borrow from the Snickers ad.)

How often do you strike up a conversation with a stranger and he/she simply holds your attention and, next thing you know, you're opening up with your own experiences and the whole thing just flows in a rather rhythmic give-and-take?  There is a connection - even for a short time - and it leaves you feeling fresh like morning; with a smile; inspired, even.  And you think, "Hmm.  I'd like to do that again." 

Ever get that?


Friday, 18 November 2011

"I'm Not Jamaican Like That"

My youngest sis and I were visiting with relatives and their friends in another city in Ontario some time ago.   Shortly after we had had dinner, a few of them, of Jamaican parentage, announced that they would soon have to leave.  One of them, who had remained reclined in the couch, replied, "No, I'm not Jamaican like that!"  The entire room burst out laughing!  No explanation of the "nyam an go weh" (eat and leave) kind was necessary.  For, it is thought, by many Jamaicans, that that is a behaviour which characterizes many a Jamaican.  It doesn't matter how long the length of time before the meal, as soon as the meal is finished, one can listen for the announcement of pending departure.

Of course, since that afternoon, sis and I use the phrase at every opportune moment to distance ourselves from things - and people - that would be thought to be undeniably Jamaican, but, at the same time, undesirably Jamaican.   "I'm not Jamaican like that" is quite a catchy phrase that accomplishes so much at one go.  It says, to me, at any rate, that the particular act/behaviour is widely-accepted as a distinctly (if not uniquely) Jamaican one.  Also, that the speaker is Jamaican, or of Jamaican heritage, and that he/she is more than willing - would be happy to - associate with other types of Jamaican-esque acts/behaviour.  And, for sure, it implies that it is necessary to make the distinction between "us" who would "never do such a thing" and "them" who "would do such a thing".

Does it sound like we're being selectively Jamaican?  Yes.  I hope so.  In the same way that we as human beings hang our heads in shame, or simply shake our heads in bewilderment, when we hear of a grotesque act committed against another. Well, it's kinda like that.  In Canada, once in a while the media carry a report about some Jamaican guy or another who has been charged with a criminal act, or a fraudulent act, or who has been involved in some kind of nefarious activity. I certainly and absolutely do not wish to be associated with that character!  I am not Jamaican like that!

Given the emphasis on multiculturalism and inclusiveness and diversity, it is generally thought that Canadians are likely not to paint everyone of a particular group (race, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender etc.) with one brush.  But, whether we like it or not, everybody has a prejudice of some kind. And, what is more, some have not taken the time to pinpoint/evaluate their own level of awareness with respect to diversity and inclusion and all that.  That's an important step in the journey toward reducing some prejudices. But, they simply feel what they feel and that is that.

So, one might understand the need for the distinction to be made in certain quarters.  True, so far, I've only used the phrase among family members and friends.  It's used in a jovial, light-hearted way.  Like, finishing a drumstick and then chewing the bone. It's not a bad thing, but, I just don't do it.  Or, arriving late for an event. Again, many have heard the term, "Jamaica time."  But, having lived with my father who would practically be out the door without waiting, I'm punctual.  I've been thinking, though, how soon will I have to utter that phrase, in more public quarters, in an attempt to make a distinction; to clarify that, really, not all Jamaicans are like that?

Come to think of it, there was such an occasion where I had to make a distinction.  (But, I think it was before I had learnt the phrase.)  My colleagues and I were participating in a workshop and the presenter made reference to the intolerance of Jamaicans of homosexuals.  I explained that (1) not all Jamaicans feel that way (given JFLAG and other supportive voices) and (2) I could not be seen as a part of any "gay-hating" crowd - in Jamaica, Canada or wherever.  I have relatives who are homosexuals and they are relatives that I love.  After that session, in other conversations, I reiterated that my Christian convictions and the Word of God points, not to condemning the sinner, but the sin.  And no sin is "worse" than the other.  I'm Christian.  It is what it is. And, it is, mostly, about love.

People from other countries, I believe, would quite easily replace "Jamaican" for their own nationality.  I was honoured to have been invited to the wedding of a friend of mine last month.  But, she warned me, we'll be on Pakistani time.  And, so we were!  A start time of 7:00, ran into 8:30!   Similarly, I - any one of us - could look on in disgust at inhumane behaviour and go, "I'm not human like that."

Of course, I've also used the phrase when the converse applies.  That's when I gladly and readily associate with the triumphs and glory of the country; the people and things of which I can be proud.   Even in the little things, too, like eating Millie or East Indian mangoes and having the juice run down the elbow.

It's the acknowledgment of good home-training (broughtupsy); the recognition of that indomitable and resilient spirit; the ability to "tek bad tings mek laugh".  That is how I grew up in Jamaica and I took the best of my home training, and the best of how I was nurtured in Jamaica, by Jamaicans, to become a citizen of the world - as a former manager put it.  So, I gladly associate with things "desirably Jamaican" and, post-haste decry and dissociate myself from things "undesirably Jamaican."

So, whenever the acts/behaviour are in sync with my own values and beliefs, demonstrated by a Jamaican, or one of Jamaican parentage, then, yes.  If asked, I will say, "I am Jamaican like that."


Tuesday, 8 November 2011

That's Just Stupid!

When was the last time you used that phrase? Not within the privacy of your humble abode.  I mean out in the open - at work; at the supermarket - in public.  Now, when was the last time you really wanted to use that phrase?  Last week?  Yesterday?  Five minutes ago?

And, while you think about that, think about this.   I'm in no way talking about name-calling. The "that" would be in reference to an act committed; a behaviour; a conclusion illogically drawn and the like. So, the thing - not the person.  Now, back to the second question.  When was the last time you really wanted to use that phrase?  Whatever your answer, my follow-up question would be: "Well, why didn't you?"  And, I'm guessing, your response would be stteo: "Are you crazy?  That'd be so politically incorrect!" 

You'd have been right, of course.  After all, in today's society, we don't say things like that. Out loud.  We either use our inside voice or none at all.  Then, we go home and vent on our spouses or siblings or BFFs!  In other words, we don't always say exactly what we want to say, as we try to be politically correct.

We don't want to offend or be seen as offensive.  We want to speak and, in our speech, be mindful of and sensitive to the needs of everyone and their race, religion, sexual orientation, age, gender and so on.  But, as sure as I am that this horse has been beaten several times, the last you read of it was, actually, not the last you read of it.  For, as we indulge in, or are consumed by, new societal trends (especially those of the technological kind), we inadvertently form new etiquette to govern the new (kinds of) interactions.  For example, no one has to tell anyone these days that the use of upper case means YOU'RE SHOUTING! (Especially when followed by an exclamation sign.)  Unless, of course, you do mean to shout.  But, what stood out for me, as I gave some (more) thought to the idea of anonymity in online interactions, was the probability that some people might just be using that as an outlet.

As I tweeted to my sis @MizDurie, the other day, I think the degree to which some people exercise political correctness is proportional to the level of frankness or harshness as (anonymous ) posters.  Imagine being cooped up in a "prison of political correctness" all day.  At the end of the day, you simply get behind the wall of anonymity and there, in your familiar place of freedom, you can happily call a spade a spade.  You can bask in the ability to describe its colour and its shape; the thickness of its handle and the sharpness of its blade.  But, this doesn't mean that you need to be harsh and caustic and vitriolic and mean, though.  I mean, I do see where it would be quite a relief for you to get your point across, vent what's on your mind, without risking career suicide or having to backtrack on something you said.  Ever heard the term, "I misspoke"?  That's one of my favs to be chuckled at.  Or another, "I misquoted...myself."

George Carlin had a line in one of his comedy routines as he spoke about politicians trying to back track on offensive speech or downplay indiscretions.  It was a kind of template go to line:  "I"m just trying to put this thing behind me and get on with my life!"  Carlin remarked that he "would just like to put this "I would just like to put this thing behind me and get on with my life" thing behind me and get on with my life!"

I'm thinking it'd be quite a while before we venture on that road; before we go out to our media interviews and...speak frankly.  Just the thought alone is refreshing!  We'd certainly know exactly where each speaker stood on a particular matter.  Couldn't we re-learn how to favour honesty and frankness over hypocrisy and PC-driven drivel?

Because the truth, as always, does come out anyway.