Am I right?

Everyone seems to think they are right. And I do, too. Weird, right? This is why people have arguments over Thanksgiving dinner. I keep noticing, however, how much of what we say has no basis in fact. I wonder sometimes if it counts as lying. It’s not ill-intentioned, but it’s garbage.

I suppose there’s some leeway for courtesy and trying to make others feel better, but I would think it better to just listen than to invent random things and pretend you are quite certain of them. Then again, if we didn’t say useless things we wouldn’t have much to say, would we?

The other day someone said that to talk about oneself is the most tedious conversation killer. Perhaps they were imagining those people who drone on and on and never pause for a breath. But I think how often people desperately wish to be acknowledged and listened to. Maybe the droners and the desperate are not the same individuals. But maybe the droners are the desperate, clinging to their listeners like drowning men.

It seems like garbage, however, to respond to babble-streams by merely nodding and smiling. Surely you are lying. If you really find it fascinating, by all means nod and smile! But if not, then what? Why not respond with some anecdotes of your own that engage with what the other is saying? I mean, you can’t talk (ill) about others, which eliminated another big chunk of regular subject matter.

The king vulture, a species found in Brazil. The common black vulture is also found here, where it feeds on garbage, roadkill and so on. Someone once explained to me in all seriousness that the king vulture lives in the forest and doesn’t hunt, but instead is fed by the black vultures. I found this appalling, charming, and curious all at once, but it just didn’t seem the right moment at the time to tear apart the story by explaining vulture biology and behavior…. besides, what do I know, maybe there’s a kernel of truth in there. It seems improbable, though.

It also seems awkward to be the kind of person who feels obliged to pick apart everything the other person says and show them why it’s wrong. This seems just as true if the person has a clear misunderstanding of some factual knowledge (like the behavior of vultures), as if the person is ‘wrong’ in the sense of having a disagreeable stance on some controversial issue.

Nor does it seem appropriate to make sure you clarify your position on any subject that comes up, just to make sure everyone knows where you stand. Who cares?

As I once joked during Lent, if we practice the monastic tips on guarding the tongue there’s nearly nothing to do but praise God. All other speech is pretty much a waste of time or veering towards sin. Am I right?