This is NOT a thematic apperception test!
At first, people usually talk about each other. Hello! How are you? I’m fine, and you? I don’t believe you – you don’t look fine to me. Well, nice of you to notice. Thanks. You’re welcome. Bye. Yes, Bye.
That was not a very nice exchange, was it? People are not generally accomplished at talking well about each other. It’s too close a topic. As the salutations wind down or drag on, and to keep the conversation going when there’s time, people may get into one of three huge areas: ideas, things or others. But, before looking into those areas, lets go just a wee bit deeper into talking about each other to each other. People may tire of talking about each other with each other when speculations about the other’s ‘feelings’ begin to or far outnumber or outweigh interest in the other’s ‘doings.’ At about then an infinite regress begins and enjoyable conversation fizzles out. (This is particularly true when it comes to personal email exchanges!) And as it did so quickly in the tiny example above. Most people, on first meeting or who don’t know each other all that well, will skip this real and present danger and jump right into talking about ideas, things or others. So, what do I mean by ideas, things and others?
Well ‘things’ in this context is a broad word for events or material things. In a group, men may talk with each other about that last hunting trip (an event) or about cars (pure things) while women may gather in the kitchen and talk about baby formulae (a material thing) or how to change a diaper (an event?). Sorry, that’s sexist. Womyn and men may talk together about changing diapers. Talk about material things and events (even news events) can go on virtually forever if a mixed couples group gets together over cards only once every couple of weeks or so. The shortcoming of these kinds of conversation is that anything truly intimate, like relationships, is avoided out of hand. But that could be a benefit too…
If the topic of things and events becomes tiresome or fails, people can always revert to talk about others (anyone who is not present). The best form that talking about others can take is praise: Oh, did you hear about Susan’s girl winning the public speaking contest? Yes, that was wonderful for her! At the other end of the scale, the worst form? Gossip. Oh, did you hear about Susan’s son getting Dot’s daughter in trouble? No, you don’t mean … ? Gossip, if it gets out, can hurt feelings or ruin reputations at worst. At the very best it may correct someones bad behaviour. Nevertheless, gossip can carry the conversation forever amongst the kind of people who thrive on it. For most who are sensible, however, it’s just a tedious temporary side trip.
So that brings us to ideas. What ones, you may ask. Well, this whole little ‘dissertation’ is an idea. But people have their favourite ideas to talk about too. Religion is the favourite for many. It’s noteworthy, that by prior common agreement, in army messes (where eating and drinking take place) three topics were verboten: religion, politics and women. Those ideas might cause a fight to break out! Not a good idea when guns are packed and swords were carried. Nevertheless, wherever they are, boys will talk about girls and vice versa. At a high level, it’s talk of love. You know the low level. Actually, the field of ideas is mostly a privately held one – inside one person’s head. When ideas get outside – between people – they can be wonderfully broadening. As in discussions of art, music, poetry, books. Anything to do with science is a good idea. Niagara At Large is a great idea that will spawn good ones.
So what happens if two or more people run out of ideas, things or others to talk about? Well, they could always go back to talking about each other. Or surmise feelings about how each other talk. But, outside of therapy, that is tedious. Talking about talking is like talking about the other person’s poor grammar. Talking about talking kills talking. Writing about it, however, may help.
Anyway, that’s the way it is, so I’ll end on that note. Oh yes, please read: