Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Bores

We’ve all been there: patiently sitting across from someone who seems to possess a limitless capacity to answer with confidence every question that arises.  Never pausing more than a few moments to collect their thoughts, producing endless convictions like a magician with a bottomless magic hat, they spontaneously extemporize and theorize with almost zero trepidation or self-reflection.  Like the classic SNL parody commercial, they have turned their ass into a professor.
Bores come in different forms.  The most morally benign form is the Humbly Bumbling Bore.  They make no pretense of special wisdom or authority, yet lack neither any sense of what might be interesting to their audience, nor the ability to stop flapping their lips.  These individuals will spend five minutes explaining in exquisite detail the most insufferably dull aspects of their lives.  And lest you bother yourself with attempting to provide commentary of your own, be warned that “getting a word in edgewise” is a phrase designed with these folks in mind.  Should you succeed, odds are your offering will be briefly acknowledged and then moved on from, like a quick piss at a rest stop before heading back onto the road to nowhere.
A more rare form is the Bore On High.  Like quiet wise men of yore, these types sit silently until the conversation calls for their input, which they obligingly proffer in dry and authoritative tones.  For the most part, there is an air of cool skepticism to their manner, as if by some bothersome twist of fate, their chariot-driver lost his way and they were mistakenly driven to a frivolous engagement.  Yet these individuals are rare, presumably spending more of their time scaling ever more lofty and aery heights than we could possibly be privy to.
Alas, the form we are all too familiar with is the industrial-strength Pedantic Bore, known colloquially as the Blowhard.   Mouth more often open than closed, forever spewing forth an ultimately monotonous and clichéd mass-production of predictable and neatly packaged commentary, these types regularly enter into conversation and immediately proceed to dominate its direction and tenor.  Their contributions so resolute, so confidant and final, or at least so mundane and uninteresting  (say, irrelevant details such as street names or car manufacturers), other participants are generally caught speechless, previous avenues of deliberation and nuanced consideration suddenly cauterized. 
At this point either one of two things will happen: participants will scan their brains for some new bit of intrigue from which to build new avenues of discussion, any of which the pedant will seek to capitalize once again.  Or, if unhindered, he will simply take advantage of the lull he created in the conversation and insinuate himself even further into the now expired subject, providing more and more details about himself and his own experiences in the matter, usually repeating his original comments at least once or twice in the process.  At this point, any slightest acknowledgement of his verbal tenure, any utterance that might possibly be interpreted as tacit approval of his holding court, only serves to encourage his kingly procession.
I have briefly searched but have not found examples of descriptions of bores among ancient texts, but I have no doubt that the personality type extends thousands of years back in time.  People must have always been boring.  I would imagine that as we evolved the capacity for complex communication, a tendency inevitably developed, especially among the less socially-astute, towards indiscriminacy of expression.  In fact, I would not be surprised to learn that there are chimps out there right now, describing their chimp thoughts in chimp ways, boring even their own fellow chimps. 
Or maybe not.  Maybe chimps aren’t polite enough for such silliness.  Maybe they simply turn and flee when they see a serial offender approach.  Or maybe they tolerate him for a short while, then give him a good box about the ear.  I imagine this would go a good length towards inhibiting such social behavior in general.  Of course, in the interest of group cohesion and maintenance of positive relationships, sacrifices have to be made.  We all must tolerate one another to a degree.  I suppose it is within this space that bores learn – or, to be more precise, never learn that such self-involved behavior is at best annoying, at worst highly corrosive to social progress.
Just think of how much good, positive, productive human interaction has been wasted at the hands  - at the mouths – of bores.  If one makes a reasonable assumption that the average American spends a minimum of 10 minutes of each week being actively prevented by a bore from engaging in otherwise socially productive behavior as learning something new about themselves or the world, or being on time for a meeting, we’re talking about 8.5 hours a year - over a lifetime, nearly two years!  Two years of excruciatingly frustrating, almost nauseating and soul-crushing boredom. 
So maybe this is a reminder to us all to find some way of fighting back.  Whether making more of a hasty exit, or taking a firm and explicit stand, let us remember the words of John Updike:
A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people's patience.
Woe is us…

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