We’ve got a problem, folks, right here in River City. While the world obsesses over the latest delta variant of Covid-19 (this reminds me of Richard Mercurius’ “Beta Getta Keg” from The Gringo), there’s another pernicious virus worming its way through the population. Its major symptom is a frothy foaming at the mouth that drowns out everyone and everything in its immediate vicinity. Think of an espresso machine hissing and sputtering.
I am referring to people who talk too much and won’t let anyone else get a word in edgewise, which is an expression my mother used to use. I cherish it as much as my grandmother’s about cows coming home, which was strange considering we lived in New York, although when I was a kid there were still cows and a dairy farm on Staten Island, but that’s another story.
Lately, everywhere I turn I encounter someone who apparently (1) has no idea that there is anyone else in the room or on the Zoom call, and (2) has no need of air, since they talk incessantly, like those ancient Roman tombs with inscriptions that contain no grammatical punctuation, just a long string of Latin letters like a strand of DNA minus the twist. These people dominate the conversation the minute the meeting starts and do not yield the floor until they have expressed every possible thought and feeling so that not only is there little left to be said, but the room feels as if the oxygen has been sucked out and replaced with kryptonite.
Academics are particularly adept at this. I once attended a working lunch where each professor said his or her piece and, when finished, made a beeline for the buffet. When it was my turn, the only people left were me and the woman who had called the meeting. Embarrassed, she asked if I wanted to continue. I said yes, and the two of us had a nice conversation. Then I got my chicken wrap and bottled water.
Dominators, processors, and ramblers are all over the place.
In addition to dominators, there are processors. These people exhaust themselves and everyone around them by processing verbally what they should have processed internally. They excuse this behavior by declaring that they’re the type of people who think “out loud,” which means it’s up to the rest of us to get the hell out of their way. I have compared this outward processing to somebody pulling their pants down in the middle of the room and taking a you-know-what right there for all to see. This is different from the relationship processor, however, who will process your relationship with them ad nauseam, which is to say until the cows come home, and warrants a separate discussion.
Related to processors is another category of talker. These people ramble as if time were not an issue and there weren’t better things to do. They don’t disgorge themselves like processors but act like dominators by not yielding back to the person running the meeting. They are rarer than their cousins but can quickly run up a saint’s blood pressure. I had an experience recently with one who coopted a question of mine, told the meeting facilitator that it was, in fact, my question, and then asked it with me looking on. How you ask a question for somebody else when they’re in the room is beyond me.
I’m telling you, things are getting worse, not better. Dominators, processors, and ramblers are all over the place. In a certain sense, I don’t mind anymore, since I have less and less to say (see Enough Said). The problem is that I have even less patience for listening to people drone on about things I have no interest in, experience of, or sympathy with.
Is that harsh? I ask you. Does it make me a bad man, not even caring if I get a word in edgewise? I mean, I just had a vacation.
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Robert, your blog post sent me back to my list of favorite quotations from the Trappist writer and philosopher Thomas Merton.
In “Thoughts in Solitude”, he writes: “It is not speaking that breaks our silence, but the anxiety to be heard. The words of the proud man impose silence on all others, so that he alone may be heard. The humble man speaks only in order to be spoken to. The humble man asks nothing but an alms, then waits and listens.”
Thank you, Vic. Anxiety does have a lot to do with the problem. Still, even anxious people have to breathe sometime.
Thank you…Yes, an excellent reminder: Each one of us needs to breathe. That reminder, that fact, could be enough to bring us to a more humble response.
Aye, Robert…I am guilty of deciding to simply turn off the sound to read the lips and facial expressions of those you describe. I practice this lip and facial reading to maintain concentration, especially if I am falling asleep:)