Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 686 (220) The Lost Art of Conversation

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

Walking to the business area of Fairhaven, the small historical district of Bellingham, Washington where we live takes 15 minutes at the most. Yesterday we sat off and didn't return for an hour and a half. What happened to extend our walk? Conversation. We saw people we knew and stopped to talk. It is a rarity, I know. Something has happened to the art of conversation. And it isn't good.

I have a friend who either bought or  invented - I’m not sure which - this little machine called a versigraph. It records how often and how long a person speaks. The invention grew out of meetings he had with an "old man's" group. They would gather every week for a noon luncheon for conversation. He noticed that certain members dominated the airspace. He thought everyone should have a chance to speak. He started to record the length of time each member spoke and then announced it at their next meeting hoping that the miscreants would refrain from hogging the floor. It didn't work. Obnoxious people remained obnoxious. He dropped out of the group. They didn't like his machine. At least the aggressive talkers didn't. They had no time for listening.

Conversation depends on sharing some experiences that two or more people can discuss. This is a problem for retired people. For much of our life we talk to fellow students or fellow workers. We attend the same school. We have classes together. We are on the same team. The work world offers us the same bosses, projects, machines, and vacations. We are buying houses and having children. We have things in common and we have a launching pad for conversation.

Retirement presents a different problem. We don't see the same people every day. We don't have common goals. We tend to become isolatos in our own houses. We vacation with our family or at some distant resort. Blood starts to become even more important as we look to our children for continued commonality. We call our kids. We video conference our grandchildren. We buy plane tickets to visit them. We plan holidays around them. Our conversational world shrinks.

Thus the significance about stretching a 15 minute walk into an hour and half tour. We have things in common with our neighbors. We can talk about community projects that we are now working on. We can talk about community projects we have worked on in the past. We can inquire into their vacation trips. One neighbor has converted a shuttle bus into a classy psychedelic/party lounge. He takes it to the Burning Man festival every year. We spent a half hour hearing about this extravaganza in the Black Rock lake bed in Nevada. Sounds like many retirees and boomers might really enjoy this event. Sort of a trip into the past in more ways than one.

Then there is the coal train threat that has just been announced for our beautiful seacoast community. A large deepwater port is to be built just north of town. More than 30 coal trains, each over a mile long, will be rolling through our town each day. Twenty five million metric tons of coal per year have been sold to Asian rim countries. The coal will be dug in the Powell River country of Wyoming and Montana and transported by train though our little spot of paradise. What to do? The train tracks run right along the water. We will be cut off. And then there is the environmental damage that comes from burning coal. No matter where it is burned the carbon dioxide affects us all. Unfortunately our position is weak compared to corporate America, the Interstate Commerce Act and the Supreme Court.

We stop to talk to neighbors about this one. No one is happy. No one believes that we have much of a chance to stop this intrusion. No one wants to accept it without a fight. We have a topic of conversation that might last for several years. We have something in common that will keep our minds and tongues busy. 

Back to the decline in conversational skills. Technology has to be one of the reasons. We sit inside our houses and watch our favorite TV shows. With hundreds of channels and streaming choices we don't even watch the same shows as our neighbor. We can't even talk about TV shows we both watch. Of course the computer adds it's  massive presence to the fracturing. Friends can be found on the web. People are linked across continents. We can become acquainted digitally with fuchsia growers, classical guitar players, or World of Warcraft gamers. We sit quietly and let our ability to converse disappear.

The effect of this silence in front of a screen becomes apparent when one tries to engage those people in conversation. They want to talk - a lot. They are like a machine run wild. Their 'on switch' has been activated. The lack of carrying on two way communication is obvious. They want to talk but they don't want to listen. They have done enough of that. They have no questions and no expressed interest in sharing thoughts.

When the talk is all one way it ceases to be conversation. It is more of a lecture. It is this one-way street that discourages honest conversation. Retirement gives us time to think about what we are doing. We can learn to listen as well as talk whenever we get a chance. 

This is Retirement Talk.






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