Q: Technology has sped things up. Thanks to headline news broadcasts, Twitter and other forms of social media, our lives are being reduced to headlines and short phrases. Recently it has become commonplace when involved in conversation with my children, grandchildren, colleagues, etc., to hear “get to the point” or “so what’s your point?”
The listener has no patience with hearing the whole story but instead prefers to hear only a headline with an outcome. Frankly, I find the question about “the point” to be rude. What I hear the listener say is “I don’t have time for what you have to say.” What are some appropriate responses to this thoughtless but growing phraseology?
A: First of all, your grown children need to be put in their place. Sit them down in dramatic fashion, invoke Mama Law and explain they will not continue to disrespect you. While you’re at it, tell them they have set the example for their ill-mannered kids and that you expect to see a change in them as well.
As to colleagues, use a calm, assertive approach. The next time an insolent coworker demands that you “get to the point” I’d say, “Bless your heart, so as I was saying…” and then complete your story. You might have to gesture as you would to a preschooler to maintain her attention, but remember you’re training her and keep it up.
You’ve hit on something that threatens the quality of our thought, experience, relationships and culture. In our inane rush to “get to the point,” we’ve missed it entirely and wonder why we’re anxious and empty. In our dismissal of substance in our communication and dealings with others, we’ve chosen a life played small, quickly, selfishly and shallow.
How often we mistake information for wisdom. Consider “Little Red Riding Hood” told in this style: “Yeah, so there was this chick who wore a red hoodie all the time. I don’t know what was up with that. Anyhow, a wolf got involved, but everybody ended up OK.”
Now ― your question calls to mind a wonderful passage from Rudyard Kipling.
“There is an ancient legend which tells us that when a man first achieved a most notable deed he wished to explain to his tribe what he had done. As soon as he began to speak, however, he was smitten with dumbness; he lacked words and sat down. Then there arose ― according to the story ― a masterless man, one who had taken no part in the action of his fellow, who had no special virtues, but afflicted ― that is the phrase ― with the magic of the necessary words. He saw, he told, he described the merits of the notable deed in such a fashion, we are assured, that the words ‘became alive and walked up and down in the hearts of all his hearers.’
“Thereupon, the tribe seeing that the words were certainly alive, and fearing lest the man with the words would hand down untrue tales about them to their children, they took and killed him. But later they saw that the magic was in the words, not in the man.”
Stories are sacred on the deepest human level. Our beliefs, behavior and identity are based on them. Perhaps we need to take a break from the hurry and the worry and gather around the fire again. Let’s sit awhile and take turns telling and listening to the stories. Just imagine the magic in those words.
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauretta Hannon, a resident of Powder Springs, is the bestselling author of “The Cracker Queen — A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life” and a keynote speaker. Southern Living has named her “the funniest woman in Georgia.” See more at www.thecrackerqueen.com.