The Family of Man

The Family of Man

Picture the scene –

We’re aboard a ship cruising around the British Isles. It’s early morning and we’ve secured a table poolside, taking turns going to the buffet so we don’t lose this gorgeous spot near the railing.

My daughter Laura and I are waiting for Kearsti, my granddaughter, and Bill, my husband, to return when Bill bolts through the automatic glass doors in a semi-contained huff, complaining about – well, something I can’t now recall. There are so many things on his list of gripes (the venue notwithstanding), it’s hard to keep track.

I’d say we are sitting there “dumbfounded and uncomprehending” – but with Bill, this is not uncommon, and we are neither of the above. As he rambles on, soliciting comments that will engender our agreement and validate his complaints – validate their severity in his own mind – we listen patiently for a couple of minutes, saying nothing. The ranting continues and Laura leans toward me, partially covers her mouth with one hand, her eyes still on Bill, and with exaggerated emphasis so she’s certain I’ll get it, mouths the words “Blah, Blah, Blah.”

It was tough maintaining a demeanor that captured the seriousness of Bill’s complaint after that, but I persevered, at least long enough for him to walk back to the buffet to collect his meal. We laugh so hard and so long there are tears running down our cheeks when he returns.

There have been many incidents like this that have occurred over the ensuing years – usually involving minor things – but none has impressed itself on our minds are indelibly as this one that instantly diffused a potential bomb. When things like this occasionally happen, Laura or I will give each other a knowing look that says “here he goes again,” saying “blah, blah, blah” in unison (not in earshot of Bill, mind you), laughing ourselves silly about how much stays the same, regardless of how you try to change it.

Blah, Blah, Blah has become the caption under Bill’s picture.

It’s always the “same old, same old” thing. Blow up, complain, calm down, carry on. It’s Bill’s way of releasing minor frustrations and what keeps him from having the heart attack people without outlets are often destined to have.

Blow up, complain, calm down, carry on. Repeat.

Isn’t this what a lot of us do?


Humanizing Bill’s reactions and circumventing their potential to inspire heart attacks with laughter, not at Bill but at the commonness of the situation, is how we dispel the tension in the air and help Bill relax a bit. And he’s become a good sport about it. No one, least of all Bill, wants a heart attack.

Is anyone even listening, though? Some people complain constantly, and what I’ve noticed these past few years is that the incidence of people talking over top of each other has been climbing exponentially. We don’t take turns anymore, and that’s true of way too many us: acquaintances,

English: The Active Listening Chart shows the ...

English: The Active Listening Chart shows the progression in the quality of listening that an active listener can engage in. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

friends, and family. The worst offenders are talk show hosts and television commentators on discussion panels – why them especially? – a verbal free-for-all is a proven ratings booster. If someone tries to become the talker instead of the patient listener, fewer people these days are inclined to cede their turn at conversation.

There is more self-aggrandizing going on when a tendency toward its opposite would be fairer, and more helpful.

And worse, when they’re listening at all, it’s not carefully. Not attentively. How can discussion, argument, conversation exist at all if others aren’t listening to – and really hearing – what’s being said?

Conversation – give and take; “informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc.” ( ).

Really? I don’t know how you view this, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much “give and take” going on in the conversations I’ve heard, or even in some in which I had hoped to participate. No “interchange of thoughts” – just one person trying to drown out the other(s), throwing their words out there slapping each other in the face with them, regardless of what anyone else is saying and whether or not others have concluded their comments. It seems he or she who is the loudest gets heard.

They remind me of a bunch of self-important magpies.

And worse – it’s rude. Did their parents teach them nothing?

In classes I’ve taught at the university, we define argument as “reasoned discourse.” Communication of any kind, especially reasoned discourse, requires active listening skills as well as conversational skills that encourage the participation of everyone. What hope is there for consideration and compromise under conditions where this kind of parity doesn’t exist? How can we expect movement to or from where one is currently standing, how can things change at all, if there is no parity? If our focus remains on ourselves, making us averse to compromise (insert the names of Congress, virtually all of them, here)?

And I’m not talking about selective skimming of verbalizations (in the way we skim text), picking out a word here and there from the stream of material flowing between two or more people and honing in on that to the exclusion of everything else – this is how things get taken out of context. Distorted. Just listen to any political ad on television. They’re replete with things taken out of context – and both sides do it: Purposefully. To obfuscate. Distract. Slant. Cover up.

Blah, Blah, Blah. We’re already hearing a lot of the same garbage from the mouths of our elected lawmakers and the lawmaker-wannabes who’d love to unseat them from their jobs.

Blah, Blah, Blah.

It’s human nature to engage in these deceptions, the little ones and the big ones. And aren’t we all, we members of the family of man, at some point on some level, guilty of this same thing?


2 thoughts on “The Family of Man

  1. howardaldrich

    To paraphrase a line from David Fincher’s ” Fight Club” (based on the equally good novel by Chuck Palahuik), people don’t seem to listen as much as they are simply waiting for their turn to speak. We are all guilty of it, I suppose, especially when we feel we have a scintillating point that simply must be recognized and appreciated. But such points only seem to reach the like minded anyway. In effect, we spend our whole lives “preaching to the choir”, because to everyone else, it’s all “blah, blah, blah”.


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