In Defense of Chatter

Today I got to talk for all of three minutes about scansion in Shakespeare’s plays. That’s about all my students care to hear: da DA da DA da DA da DA da DA.

I talked about how the iambic meter is the root melody of both English and Norwegian, and how different regional dialects in Norwegian have filler words or sounds to complete an iamb when it is unnecessary for sense: “Hvor skal du hen?” Hen has no real function. It’s like “Where are you going to?” in English. It’s about the music. The aesthetics. And it is what the Norwegians a call bit of silent knowledge passed down: the culture’s melody embedded in the spoken language. We don’t even know we know the song.

Humans sing. Chatter. Chirp. Our place in a community is orally performative. Though, I don’t point out to my students how when a boy enters the room, I hear the girls’ voices rise in pitch instantly, unconsciously. How this happens in rooms of full-grown adults, too. I suppose there is a specific –ology for this, but one doesn’t need to be a scientist to notice these things. One just needs to listen.

Scientists have discovered birds have regional dialects, too. Why should this surprise us? We touch one another, we cook for one another, we dress up and wear perfumes, and we “chatter”. If you’re old enough to remember John Denver, forgive me but: we fill up one another’s senses.

I listen to quite a few Dharma talks on my runs, though I usually turn them off when it comes to the Q&A. It seems to me a lot of the questions are often about how to guide other people (who are presumably less enlightened) to stop being annoying. Yesterday I was running when the Q&A started and I didn’t bother to stop and fish the phone out of my rain gear to turn it off.

The first question came: How do I politely stop people from talking when what they’re saying isn’t substantial?

The person asking the question wasn’t speaking of gossip or cruel talk. Just… “chatter”. Unnecessary talking.

(And, yes, before you think it – if you haven’t already – I am totally aware of the irony of my own judgmental thoughts here.)

I am no guru – but I’m thinking: Don’t. Don’t get them to stop. Listen. Compassionately. Someone is singing because they need to be heard, damn it.

I dug the phone out of my rain gear before my ego really reared its ugly head and before I would have have to consider the guru’s own response.

In Norway there is a phrase: kontaktsøkende (contact-seeking). And it is used in the same way American’s use the term “needy”.

Victim-blaming before “victim-blaming” became an annoying term on the internet chatter. (Read: winking emoji.)

I figure there is a middle way – between the silence of asceticism and the mindless, literally “care-less” gossip. I believe that is where the beautiful music lies: laughter like timpani rolls and cymbal clashes.

I struggle with gossip, every day. I struggle with gossip, because I am still trying to find a way to fit in. My chatter about poetry (scansion, for example), about history, philosophy or … ahem – Star Trek, bores everyone I know. It would honestly be easier for me to take a vow of silence than to try to make small talk in the lunch room.

But I keep trying. I keep chattering, still as shamelessly kontaktsøkende as the birds.

If other people’s delightful chatter annoys you? The problem just might be your own ego.

I’m going to climb down off my high horse now.

(of HUMble Breed!)

… and god help me to stop gossiping.


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