Too many men only skim the surface when they talk to each other, robbing each other of humanity.
Last week I was listening to Tim Ferriss’s podcast featuring Amanda Palmer, who was relating an experience she had on a yoga retreat. All of the people were told to look into each other’s eyes for three minutes without looking away. A few people ended up in tears. The reason? They felt like it was the first time anyone noticed them, that anyone cared to really look. This got me thinking about men in the world today. I recently wrote a post on leading a life of quiet desperation. There is another word that could be exchanged for quiet in that phrase though, a word that so many feel but we never acknowledge. That word is invisible.
Think about your typical setting where male friends meet up. It could be a barbecue, a bar, a sports match, any of the usual places. The conversation will generally go like this:
“Hey man, how’s things?”
“Good man, you?”
“Yeah good, pretty busy. How’s the wife and kids?”
“They’re doing ok. Did you catch the game on the weekend?”
In that conversation, they barely acknowledged each other’s existence. When women meet (at least in my observation), there is a small difference in words that is actually a really big deal – they say, “How are you?” They don’t lead by asking about all the things going on in each other’s lives; they start by focusing on each other. In a typical male conversation, the participants seem to do everything they can to stay away from talking about how they are feeling or, indeed, anything about themselves. The conversation always moves quickly onto sports or a similarly safe and shallow topic, because anything deeper is for some reason off limits.
The problem with this is that men all over the world are leading lives where no one ever acknowledges the fact that we all have stuff deep down that we really, really want to talk about. I find that after spending time with one of my best mates, I always come away really energised and excited about life. It’s because every time we hang out we dive deep pretty much straight away. We both share a mutual interest in business and the creative fields, him being an actor and me being a writer. We are constantly exploring the complexities of our interests and really challenging each other. When he asks me something about my creative process, or how I handle criticism, or why I write something a certain way, it acknowledges the fact that I’m a human being that is passionate about something. It acknowledges that there is stuff deep down that is really important to me and that what I’m doing is important enough to actually discuss.
Compare this to your typical guy conversation about that great play in the game on the weekend. They’ll talk about this player or that player and whether a team will make the finals. It is all talk about other people, people that are actually out there living their passions. When you think about men everywhere working jobs where they are essentially interchangeable, wearing similar clothes, living similar lives, and in their free time talking about other people’s lives, how can they not feel invisible? How is it that more men don’t wake up at 50 and wonder what the hell it’s all for?
Then there’s the other problem where a lot of people just don’t listen anymore; they simply wait for their turn to speak. Have you ever had someone ask you about one of your interests and not 10 seconds into your response, they get this bored look on their face that tells you they’re clearly not listening? That right there is invisibility, because they act like you’re not even there before changing the subject back to something more superficial again.
This is why when I meet new people or I get to know acquaintances better I steer away from those common, easy topics like football or TV shows. They don’t tell you anything about a person, no kind of bond is created, and it ends up being just another forgettable conversation with someone you don’t know any better than you did five minutes ago. I’ve started asking questions like, “What’s going on in your world? What’s exciting you right now? What are you working on at the moment?” True, it isn’t asking how the guy is feeling, but it’s an open-ended question that invites them to talk about something they actually care about.
Soon enough we stumble onto a subject that they are really passionate about and their demeanour changes completely. Their face and gestures become more animated. There is excitement in their voice, and there is a real energy that comes off them. It’s as though they’ve been waiting their whole life for someone to just ask them about something they really love. If they are hesitant initially, I’ll make sure I get animated and passionate, just to show that it’s ok for them to. Sometimes they’ll warm up and jump into it, but sometimes they’re unfortunately so repressed that they can’t do anything but discuss superficialities.
Seriously, guys, it’s time we start to really engage and care about each other’s lives. Stop talking about the things you don’t really care about in order to avoid anything deeper. Do you ever notice the people that are the happiest are always the ones that are passionate about something, whatever it may be? Having a conversation about something meaningful to someone is like listening to a motivational speaker: it’s engaging, interesting and leaves both people with a closer bond and knowing each other on another level. Isn’t that so much better than boring sports talk to fill the time in between sips of beer?
Photo: Antony Stanley/Flickr