Stop me if you’ve heard this rant before.
On second thought, stop yourself if you wish to, but don’t even think about stopping me. I’m going to keep writing; you may read or not, just as you like.
Uber is a marvelous invention, transcendent even. Not only can you get where you want to go, you can meet some fascinating people en route. For best results, I suggest ExpressPool — far slower than a private car, but oh! The conversations you can have! Today we discussed Katrina’s impact on New Orleans, the impact of the death of Aretha Franklin on the face of modern music, the eminent practicality of wearing vests (extra pockets!), the application of blockchain technology to both music composition and Samizdat, societal engineering versus censorship…
The list could go on, but you get the point: It’s possible to have intelligent conversation with people you don’t know on almost any topic. You shouldn’t need to be reminded why that’s of particular interest in today’s hypersensitive and violently reactive culture. Just in case, though, I’ll speak plainly: I’ve criticized Trump to a MAGA-hatter, Hillary Clinton to a card-carrying member of the Pantsuit Nation (she showed me), and even listened to kickback against my man Gary Johnson. And all of the discussions were civil.
In a sense, I was taking undue advantage of the circumstances. After all, here we are, all trapped together in a small car until the ride is over. We have no choice but to be reasonable (or at least to pretend to be reasonable). To do otherwise would be horribly impolite; that goes without saying. But even the habitually impolite among us maintain the pretense of reason; it’s in their best interest, after all. And one thing about that pretense: In order to maintain it convincingly, you actually need to pay attention, mentally processing the words the other people are saying.
That, my friends, is conversation.
(It’s an unspoken rule of most conversation that the time you’re speaking is mainly used by your listener to formulate their reply. You can’t both do that and focus on listening. Think about it.)
I can say without exaggeration that I’ve only rarely experienced free and open conversation as the rule of a place or group. With friends, there’s always the constraint of hurt feelings; with family, there’s taboo topics. Even in college — no, especially in the realm of higher learning, where the ability to converse and learn is so very necessary, it’s unwise to express freely unless one’s ideas conform. And it’s pointless even to mention free exchange of ideas in the workplace.
But why is this so unthinkable? Why is it taboo to propose an unconventional (and by extension uncomfortable) subject in almost any area of our lives? Shouldn’t we all be striving to improve our own understanding, and the understanding of others, by engaging in the act of free and open conversation whenever practicable?
And why is it that I can only reliably expect great conversations when riding Uber?