by L.G. William Chapman B.A., LL.B.
If ever we spoke the truth about one another, the conversation would be considerably more entertaining. To sterilize our comments is equivalent to removing all the fat from the gravy, it just doesn’t taste as good. The unfortunate part of such a candid posture is that it invariably dwells upon what are considered by many to be the more undesirable elements of another’s personality. Can you imagine, for example, what you’d be inclined to say if someone asked you how your family were? Of course the immediate inclination is to gloss over the matter entirely by saying they’re all fine, but that really tells the listener nothing. How much more engrossing it would be to say, "Well, my husband has become a certified alcoholic; we now know with certainty that my nephew will never marry; my mother is driving me crazy; I haven’t spoken to my sister since the fracas last Christmas; and my aunt who lives with us is a complete jerk!" Such an overview provides numerous avenues which to explore in further detail; cuts to the chase, so to speak, broadens the horizons. I mean, why bother with all that namby-pamby stuff about how excellently well everyone is doing? None of us lives in a cartoon world of defined edges and limits; we’re all constantly overflowing and making a mess of things, if the truth be known.
Among friends a juicy bit of gossip goes a long way to keep the fires of interest burning. Indeed, it is the essence of communication that one should communicate not only fact, but information. To teeter on the brink of propriety (which normally means saying nothing but platitudes), as though that somehow meets the challenge of living, is an entire mistake, not to mention completely boring. And who do we thinking we’re kidding anyway? Most people who know anything at all about us have a pretty fair idea what’s really going on. To avoid the reality is not only insulting to the other party, but it needlessly and painfully protracts the conversation to the point of abandonment (assuming, that is, that one or both parties doesn’t finally break the ice and interject some common sense into the proceedings).
There are many ways to be candid and informative without being rude and aggressive. Like so many other things in life, it all depends on how you look at it and what you’re looking for; viz., Do we see what we believe, or do we believe what we see? That’s the crunch of the matter when you think about it. Is Little Johnnie what we hoped he would turn out to be, or is he one greedy number intent on stealing whatever he can from you or anyone else who dares to come within his sphere? That may be pushing it, but I use it only to illustrate the point. Naturally, more refinement in our discernment of others’ characters not only softens the social blow, but is more enlightening. And what’s wrong with throwing in a bit of wisdom when it comes to thinking about our friends and relations! You never know, we may even in the process end by convincing ourselves of the legitimacy of what was once so annoying about them. It is always perilous to apply intelligence to the castigation of others. Tends to open up other possibilities for fault, not exactly what one likes to discover after a prolonged cultivation of dislike based upon nuance and prejudice only.
I shouldn’t harp on the distasteful elements of those whom we know. One could just as easily talk about a happy relationship. But I’ll leave that chapter for another day. Far more amusing to squander one’s efforts on the short-comings of others, if for no other reason than that we have such a vast resource upon which to draw. After all, scuttlebutt is by far more engaging than that perfectly dry stuff about charm and pleasantness and lasting devotion, which all tend to be so glossy and superficial.
Like it or not, we’re part of the animal kingdom, and as brilliant as we may wish to fancy ourselves, it takes but a scratch of the surface to reveal the driving instincts of our being. I’m not for a moment suggesting that everything below the surface is damnable, but rather that our essence is not something with which we clothe ourselves, it is a flavour which is ours alone and which makes us what we are. And it doesn’t make one a nosy-parker to discuss it. I prefer to look upon it as an artistic duty to seek from life the meaning that it has, not the meaning I’d desire. Funny, too, how connecting oneself with the basic fundamentals of life, as earthy as they may be, is oddly more uplifting than treading about in an ethereal rarefied atmosphere where we more likely to fall through the gaps.