Conversations Not Worth Having

I am running out of patience for conversations that aren’t either humorous or sensible. Darker the humour, the better. The more truth plus humility plus sophistication, the more engaging.

But we prefer gossiping. This psychologist has argued that 80% of average conversations consist of gossip. It’s apparently “essential” for humanity.

Some other research says that we spend 60% of our conversations talking about ourselves. This doesn’t overlap well with the gossip stat unless we are gossiping about how everything screws us over. I, me, MINE.

Another study says that 60% of us lie at least once during a 10-minute conversation. And ooh, this bit is great — men generally lie to make themselves come off better whereas women generally lie to make the other person feel better.

I know all this sounds condescending. I am not, by any means, a 100% innocent here, but I am trying to beat those damn percentages.

A good friend preached not-so-long-ago that he refuses to have a touchy conversation without having a decent understanding of the opposing viewpoint. Let’s take guns for example. He, the friend, is anti-gun. So according to his sermon, he will only debate with a gun aficionado after understanding the depths of the pro-gun argument. He says Anish, I get livid when the other side doesn’t understand my perspective, so it’s only fair if I give their perspective a go.

Ever since the friend preached this to me, I have become a pious follower. Sadly, the majority haven’t yet been converted.

There is also the case of sensitivity. If you haven’t read Lukianoff & Haidt’s the Coddling, get on it already. They studiously claim that we, especially them Gen-Zs, are getting overly sensitive to being offended. Being offended is not the same as intentional bigotry. The charity of intention must be given to the speaker, at least in the beginning. This quote from their book summarizes this issue that is especially rampant on college campuses in developed countries:

The number of efforts to “disinvite” speakers from giving talks on campus has increased in the last few years; such efforts are often justified by the claim that the speaker in question will cause harm to students. But discomfort is not danger. Students, professors, and administrators should understand the concept of antifragility and keep in mind Hanna Holborn Gray’s principle: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.”

A version of this happened to me recently.

A well-meaning friend asked me for feedback, and I was coy. She poked, come on Anish, let it rip. So, I gave her an objective observation as feedback. She seemed to have taken it well then.

A week later, I realize she has stopped talking to me. I had no idea what was wrong. When I inquired, she said you crushed my work that took months of sweat and emotional turmoil to put together. I reminded her that (a) she double asked for the feedback and (b) the feedback was an objective observation, NOT some random “it sucks because I don’t like it and I can’t tell you why.” To be fair, she apologized. But will I go there again? Cautiously, if at all.

Then, there is the hey let me bring up the exception to this argument and use it to debunk it completely. John smoked marijuana and ended up in the hospital possessed by a satanic version of Joseph. Thus, marijuana is evil for everyone. Never mind that this is an exception. An exception that proves the rule, maybe. Please don’t abuse an exception. More importantly, please don’t solve for the exception.

There is also the hypocritical aspiration that humans should be perfect and if they make one mistake, irrespective of its magnitude, everything else is irrelevant.

Musk is a great example here. He’s divisive and I honestly don’t know why. Yes, he should watch his Twitter-fingers, be careful who he calls a pedo and be less of a dick as a boss. But, to use that to make him a villain while he is almost single-handedly trying (and succeeding) to save the Earth doesn’t make sense. Yes, he’s not perfect and you don’t have to be okay with his missteps, but to brand him as an asshole is to discount the exponentially more good he is doing than the average good person. Please have a holistic perspective.

Related to this is the illusion that you know more than you do, and then spend the next two hours arguing about something you know little about. Especially without the humility or awareness that you might not know enough.

I fall in this trap often. Sometimes as the guy who thinks he knows more, but more often as the bemused guy who ends up trying to have a conversation with someone who isn’t really informed or looking to concede to the facts.

Our big fat egos get in the way. And if your big fat ego continues freestyling without conceding to your own self-awareness of your big fat ego, then, well.

Also, Nassim Taleb once tweeted:

Never complain about people, no matter how justified. Just drive them to complain about you.

This whole post seems like one giant complaint. And maybe it is. Or maybe it’s a largely accurate observation. You’re free to complain about it.

But the point is, we talk largely about ourselves, mainly gossiping; lying more than just occasionally while arguing against something we don’t fully understand, only to get offended rather quickly, setting double standards as we get swayed by the exception while also imagining we know more than we actually do, and then letting our egos get in the way even when we realize we are wrong.

Why have conversations at all then?

I am not saying I am fully innocent here. I am not. And I know plenty of folks who are capable of great conversations. And I love having conversations with them.

My quarrel is with myself.

When I encounter a sorry conversation, instead of hitting the escape button, I yearn to “knock sense” into the senseless. There is where I fall. I can’t let go. And then my emotions get in the way and I become what I have been berating. Especially when someone is irrationally trampling on grounds I am seasoned in.

Instead, what I need to do is disconnect. I am no preacher, no atheist missionary. I don’t have to enlighten everyone or get my point across every time. I just need to let go.

It’s time to create a new if-then loop. If person X is generally well-read, humble, gives the charity of intention and is open to reaching some sort of a compromised resolution, then continue the conversation, else person X is an annoying fuck and stop the conversation immediately.

This way, I’ll hopefully save some anxiety, however hard it might initially be. Maybe a good way to pull the plug is to throw in an insensitive, dark joke that effervesces the sanity of the poor victim. Deserved.