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Phil Goldstein | North Forty News
I’ve found a new and fascinating social engagement competition of sorts. It’s called the ‘All about me game’. The contest is somewhat based on that increasingly common aspect of human behavior—people demonstrating a lack of consideration for others, doing only what’s best for them. Prominent examples are distracted driving—don’t worry about others’ safety as long as you answer that text right away—to less dangerous but equally irritating actions like the person who takes up two parking spaces.
My participation in this amusing game is, however, neither dangerous nor irritating, but let me explain:
My parents often stressed that I’d meet many interesting and successful people in my life, and I could learn more by inquiring about them than by talking about myself. According to Mom and Dad, self-effacement was virtuous.
The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve tried applying my parents’ lesson, and it has taught me much because I have encountered many interesting and successful people.
However, what’s really interesting is how so many of these people just can’t bring themselves to say, after my usual introductory interrogatories, “But enough about me, tell me about you.”
Now I know what you’re thinking—the reason others can only talk about themselves and never ask about me is because they quickly discern that I’m just not that interesting. And while that may be true, it certainly appears that this common social courtesy from my late parents’ era has relatedly gone the way of families talking, not texting, at the dinner table.
Some years ago, and new to my present community, I accepted an invitation to join a civic group. Shortly thereafter, a more senior member of the organization praised my initial work and invited me to lunch—he said it was to get to know me better. He picked me up in his uber-luxury vehicle, the virtues of which he kept extolling even after we’d been seated at the restaurant. Two hours later he was still talking only about himself and his many accomplishments. Despite his stated purpose for the engagement, the closest he ever got to actually learning anything about me was when he asked if I’d enjoy driving his luxury car on the way home.
This example is just typical of today’s ‘All about me’ mentality. And, since there’s nothing I can do about distracted drivers, parking lot scofflaws or other anti-social behavior, I can however strike a blow against the all-about-me-talkers of the world by making a game out of the practice. My goal therefore in every obviously one-sided interpersonal interchange these days is to see how long I can keep someone talking only about themselves, the object being to break the aforementioned two hour record. Challenging I know, but if I did it once inadvertently, imagine what I can do when I put my mind to it. To that end, and to add spice to the contest, there are tactics I use during the interchange:
First, it’s essential to use statements like, “Wow, that’s impressive,” or “Tell me how you learned that” as prattle prolongers.
Secondly, it’s important to see how close you can get to prompting any kind of inquiry about yourself without causing the individual to actually do that. For instance, when they’re blathering on about their fascinating vocation, you offer, “In my job I can certainly relate to what you said,” but then you run the risk of them asking, “Oh, what do you do for a living,” which unfortunately ‘stops the clock’.
Next, although the rules of this contest are flexible, should someone else within earshot interject anything into the conversation, be sure to deduct the elapsed time of the ensuing interchange from the official ‘All about me’ timekeeping. You’re then permitted to restart the clock after you say to the contestant, “And before we were interrupted, you were saying…”
Finally—and this is essential—you must never disclose the true reason for your seemingly fawning interest in the other person. In fact, competition protocol dictates that when you finally extricate yourself from the one-sided self-aggrandizement, you must express deep appreciation for your enlightenment. And of course, any yawning on your part at any point also stops the clock.
So, if we meet and I appear to hang on your every word, don’t necessarily think I’m that interested; I may just be trying to break the ‘All about me’ record of some guy with a fancy car.
Phil Goldstein writes Tales from Timnath periodically for North Forty News. Phil is a 12-year Timnath resident who proudly serves the Town of Timnath as chair of the Timnath Planning Commission. Phil is finally using his journalism degree after getting sidetracked 49 years ago. The views expressed herein are Phil’s only. Contact him with comments on the column or suggestions for future columns at NFNTimnath@gmail.com.