Wednesday, July 30, 2014

But enough about you

An investment counselor, knowing I had retired from the newspaper business, greeted me in his office by asking if I was still doing any writing. I answered briefly, quickly realizing he wasn't really interested. He then launched into a story about his experiences as an amateur song writer, most of which I had heard before. As I was leaving his office a few minutes later, he resumed his story.

A few days later, while watching Lonesome Dove for the third time, I noted the scene in which Gus and Woodrow are along a Texas river and Gus asks, "When were you happiest?" Woodrow stammers with his answer, but then Gus says, "I was happiest right here by this little creek." (I know things are big in Texas, but it looked more like a river to me.) He then told about driving to that spot years ago in a buggy with the woman he has never stopped loving.

We have all known situations like this. People ask about our recent surgery in order to tell us, at length, about their own. They inquire about our vacation, then start telling about their own trip before we can say more than a sentence or two. They ask about our children or grandchildren while reaching for pictures of theirs. Most of us are guilty of this kind of behavior ourselves. We introduce subjects we want to talk about with questions we don't really care to have answered.

Rhetorical questions can be effective for teachers and public speakers. It's a way of getting listeners to think about something before the teacher or speaker provides an answer. In conversation, however, simple courtesy should dictate that we ask questions only when we are prepared to actually listen to the answers.

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