Perplexing behaviour is always a mere curio: an intance of peculiarity in a world that permits an infinite variety of strangeness. Humans behaving, oddly, badly, or even wrongly, does not have the shock impact on my delicate sensibilities that it used to have. They have become part of what I perceive as the ever-present. I don’t like to talk about the ever-present. That doesn’t mean I’ve reached any peace with my own defects even when ever-present.
One such defect is when I’m stuck in conversation with a stranger. I suck at making small talk because when it comes to the act of carrying the conversation, of talking honestly, I find myself in dire difficulty.
Conversationally speaking, I drop the ball.
In a conversation, there is a respectable amount of time after which silence becomes awkward. Once the conversation runs aground on the shoals of silence, it takes a genius to recover the conversation. I have discovered that my sense of terror at the silence is particularly keen, and that my panic sets in far earlier than it seems to for most people (other people have salvaged conversations that I thought unsalvageable).
Partly this is part of my overengaged sense of privacy; i am extremely guarded about my personal life and space. Even where such zealous safeguards are uneeded my default approach is that others do not need to know.
The other part, the absurd intriguing contract, (see I’m doing it even as I set the stage to describe it) is that I feel the constant need to be entertaining. Not just normal level, conversational interesting, but a demanding / performance / absurd level of entertaining. Anything less than charismatic perfection is always assessed as a failure.
The easiest way, the social acceptable-ish way, is to be funny. Humour has long been recognised as a classic tool of social deflection. One can appear to be engaged, light-hearted, inject some perspective and be seen as a positive contributor to the conversation by being the funny man. This is why every class has a class-clown and every village has an idiot.
The other alternative is the geek / nerd half of my brain, which sees trivia, facts and obscure information as fascinating. And as much as I deny it, I am very much a geek. The only thing that I can claim to my credit, is that I’m a law geek, instead of a stereotypical Star Wars geek or Star Trek geek. Thankfully. It comes with the advantage of being socially slightly more acceptable and slightly less stereotypical. After all, lawyers are expected to be the masters of esoteric points of detail in all spheres.
The difficulty with both those defenses – and yes I know they’re defenses – is that neither is particularly socially acceptable. Of the two, the greater stigma is saved for nerdiness. Thats why even in school they lived outside the main stream, and why they’re all off running tech bubble companies at the moment on the way to being a new Twitter or Facebook. But when it comes to ordinary conversaiton with ordinary people, they’re looked down down upon because most people genuinely don’t see the beauty in trivia.
The joker is treated with greater deference for his form of defense. Jokes are socially valuable, and we all like some one who can make us laugh. Its such a valuable skill that most women identify it as the primary attribute that they are looking for in a prospective partner. So from that we know, at least, that its the primary attribute that women feel safe mentioning on a survey. At the same time, we know that jokes are a form of deflection.
I’m very good at deflection. I’m not good at entertaining interaction.