Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Get Serious

Not long ago, you spent the later half of an evening amid a group of individuals whose politics and attitudes were while not exactly congruent with your own, enough so that the flow of conversation reached that quirky comfort of conviviality.  You quite enjoyed yourself, moving through a range of discussion as varied as the subsequent range of wine bottles.  Your sense of the evening and its attendant pleasures had to do directly with the sense of bonding with others and the reaffirmation and articulation of values and passions already well in place.  The resident emotion was of good humor, even when the turn of discussion went from time to time to some particular social, political, or moral outrage.

The setting of the evening would have made for a splendid background for the sorts of short stories you might expect from the likes of Ann Beattie, Deborah Eisenberg, and Julian Barnes.

The evening was in marked contrast to a gathering in which you were in your more accustomed role as an outsider; your politics in this gathering was the exception, thus your sense of being the one who has brought outsider views to the table, a table well set with sentiments and attitudes well to the right of yours.  In this earlier gathering, you were not nearly so relaxed.  You were, in fact, on guard.  Thus went the potential for humor out the window.  In the more convivial gathering, humor was spontaneous, free-flowing, bordering at times on the self-deprecation that goes with social guards and restraints being told to be at ease.  In the other situation, such humor as you were able to see came from irony, which borders on sarcasm, which is self-revelatory in the sense that sarcasm and irony are attempts at some kind of conspiracy, some implication of a moral high ground,

There is much to be learned from both situations. When you are among a group of individuals whose politics and overview differs markedly from yours, conversation may move into the better forms of argument, in which points might be made by anyone at any time.  But you as well may be in situations where the ruling passion is stubborn adherence to some larger sense of value.

You are not, however clever or persuasive you might be, how scrupulous in your logical progressions you may emerge, going to convert anyone to your vision nor are they going to change your mind.  Such confrontations are nevertheless valuable for both parties; this can be significant argument, during the course of which, although not prepared to give a scant inch, both parties can learn something they did not know before the argument. More often than not, both parties chose to ignore this potential, hanging instead on their position, not willing to give ground.

For the longest time, you were not comfortable in such situations, thanks in large measure to your observation that you were not going to change anyone’s mind.  There is no give and take of humor possible.  You still feel that, thus the persistent sense of blur in such circumstances.

The choices are clear; the relaxed opportunity is one for bonding and reaffirmation, the tense condition offers at least you an opportunity to learn something you might not have seen, but it does so in an atmosphere of tension, seriousness, and possible pomposity. There is a temptation to opt for the pomposity and the potential for learning, but this is not the only way for you to learn.  And besides, you rather enjoy the atmosphere when humor is in the room.  Argument is fun, but so is the bonding among like-minded friends.  Besides, you can always refine your learning-through-argument by reading a book or magazine, then arguing the pomposity out of it.


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