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To Bore Or Not To Bore Post by :appieh58 Category :Essays Author :Ralph Bergengren Date :September 2011 Read :2027

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To Bore Or Not To Bore

'Take me away,' said Thomas Carlyle, when silence settled for a moment over a dinner-table where one of the diners had been monologuing to the extreme limit of boredom, 'for God's sake take me away and put me in a room by myself and give me a pipe of tobacco!'

Little as we may otherwise resemble Carlyle, many of us have felt this emotion; and some realize (although the painful suspicion comes from a mind too analytical for its own comfort) that we may have occasioned it. The nice consideration for the happiness of others which marks a gentleman may even make him particularly susceptible to this haunting apprehension. Carlyle defined the feeling when he said, 'To sit still and be pumped into is never an exhilarating process.' But pumping is different. How often have I myself, my adieus seemingly done, my hat in my hand and my feet on the threshold, taken a fresh grip, hat or no hat, on the pump-handle, and set good-natured, Christian folk distressedly wondering if I would never stop! And how often have I afterward recalled something strained and morbidly intent in their expressions, a glassiness of the staring eye and a starchiness in the smiling lip, that has made me suffer under my bed-cover and swear that next time I would depart like a sky-rocket!

Truly it seems surprising, in a fortunate century when the correspondence school offers so many inexpensive educational advantages for deficient adults, that one never sees an advertisement--


If you bore people you can't be loved.
Don't you want to be loved? Don't YOU?

Then sign and mail this coupon at once.
Let Dynamo Doit teach you through his
famous mail course, How not to be a Bore.

The explanation, I fancy, must be that people who sign and mail coupons at once do not know when they are bored; that the word 'boredom,' so hopelessly heavy with sad significance to many of us, is nevertheless but caviar to the general and no bait at all for an enterprising correspondence school.

A swift survey of literature, from the Old Testament down, yields some striking discoveries. To take an example, Job does not appear to have regarded Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar as bores. And there is Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, out of which one can familiarly quote nothing about boredom earlier than Lord Byron. The subject has apparently never been studied, and the broad division into Bores Positive and Bores Negative is so recent that I have but this minute made it myself.

The Bore Positive pumps; the Bore Negative compels pumping. Unlike Carlyle, he regards being pumped into as an exhilarating process, and so, like the Old Man of the Sea on Sinbad's tired shoulders, he sits tight and says nothing; the difference being that, whereas the Old Man kept Sinbad walking, the Bore Negative keeps his victim talking. Charlie Wax--who lives down town in the shop-window and is always so well-dressed--would be a fine Bore Negative if one were left alone with him under compulsion to keep up a conversation.

Boredom, in fact, is an acquired distaste--a by-product of the printing-press and steam-engine, which between them have made and kept mankind busier than Solomon in all his wisdom could have imagined. Our arboreal ancestor could neither bore nor be bored. We see him--with the mind's eye--up there in his tree, poor stupid, his think-tank (if the reader will forgive me a word which he or she may not have quite accepted) practically empty; nothing but a few primal, inarticulate thinks at the bottom. It will be a million years or so yet before his progeny will say a long farewell to the old home in the tree; and even then they will lack words with which to do the occasion justice.

Language, in short, must be invented before anybody can be bored with it. And I do not believe, although I find it stated in a ten-volume Science-History of the Universe, that 'language is an internal necessity, begotten of a lustful longing to express, through the plastic vocal energy, man's secret sense of his ability to interpret Nature.' An internal necessity, yes--except in the case of the Bore Negative, who prefers to listen; but quite as likely begotten of man's anything but secret sense of his ability to interpret himself.

Speech grew slowly; and mankind, now a speaking animal, had centuries--nay, epochs--in which to become habituated to the longwindedness that Job accepted as a matter of course in Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. So that even to-day many, like Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, bore and are bored without really knowing it.

In the last analysis a bore bores because he keeps us from something more interesting than himself. He becomes a menace to happiness in proportion as the span of life is shortened by an increasing number of things to do and places to go between crib and coffin. Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, full of an unusual personal experience that the leisurely reader finds most horridly entertaining, bored the Wedding Guest because at that moment the Wedding Guest wanted to get to the wedding, and was probably restrained from violence only by the subconscious thought that it is not good form to appear at such functions with a missing button. But the Mariner was too engrossed in his own tale to notice this lack of interest; and so invariably is the Bore Positive: everything escapes him except his listener.

But no matter how well we know when we are bored, none of us can be certain that he does not sometimes bore--not even Tammas. The one certainty is that I may bore, and that on the very occasion when I have felt myself as entertaining as a three-ring circus, I may in effect have been as gay and chatty as a like number of tombstones. There are persons, for that matter, who are bored by circuses and delighted by tombstones. My mistake may have been to put all my conversational eggs in one basket--which, indeed, is a very good way to bore people.

Dynamo Doit, teaching his class of industrious correspondents, would probably write them, with a picture of himself shaking his fist to emphasize his point: 'Do not try to exhaust your subject. You will only exhaust your audience. Never talk for more than three minutes on any topic. Wear a wrist-watch and keep your eye on it. If at the end of three minutes you cannot change the subject, tell one of the following anecdotes.' And I am quite sure also that Professor Doit would write to his class: 'Whatever topic you discuss, discuss it originally. Be apt. Be bright. Be pertinent. Be yourself. Remember always that it is not so much what you say as the way you say it that will charm your listener. Think clearly. Illustrate and drive home your meaning with illuminating figures--the sort of thing that your hearer will remember and pass on to others as "another of So-and-so's bon-mots." Here you will find that reading the "Wit and Humor" column in newspapers and magazines is a great help. And speak plainly. Remember that unless you are heard you cannot expect to interest. On this point, dear student, I can do no better than repeat Lord Chesterfield's advice to his son: "Read what Cicero and Quintilian say of enunciation."'

But perhaps, after all, enunciation is no more important than renunciation; and the first virtue that we who do not wish to be bores must practise is abstemiousness of self. I know it is hard, but I do not mean total abstinence. A man who tried to converse without his I's would make but a blind stagger at it. This short and handsome word (as Colonel Roosevelt might have said) is not to be utterly discarded without danger of such a silence as would transform the experimenter into a Bore Negative of the most negative description. Practically deprived of speech, he would become like a Charlie Wax endowed with locomotion and provided with letters of introduction. But one can at least curb the pronoun, and, with shrewd covert glances at his wrist-watch, confine the personally conducted tour into and about Myself within reasonable limits. Let him say bravely in the beginning, 'I will not talk about Myself for more than thirty minutes by my wrist-watch'; then reduce it to twenty-five; then to twenty--and so on to the irreducible minimum; and he will be surprised to feel how his popularity increases with leaps and bounds at each reduction--provided, of course, that he finds anything else to talk about.

Your Complete Bore, however, is incapable of this treatment, for he does not know that he is a bore. It is only the Occasional Bore, a sensitive, well-meaning fellow who would not harm anybody, whose head lies sleepless on a pillow hot with his blushes while he goes over and over so apt and tripping a dialogue that it would withhold Gabriel from blowing his trumpet. So it seems to him in his bed; but alas, these dialogues are never of any practical use. They comfort, but they do not cure. For no person ever talks to us as we talk to ourselves. The better way is to decide firmly (1) to get a wrist-watch, and (2) to get to sleep.

There is, however, one infallible rule for not being a bore,--or at any rate for not being much of a bore,--and that is, never to make a call, or talk to one person, or to several at once, for more than fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes is not really a very long time, although it may seem so. But to apply this rule successfully one must become adept in the Fine Art of Going Away. Resting your left hand negligently on your right knee, so that the wrist protrudes with an effect of careless grace from the cuff, you have glanced at your watch and observed that the fifteen minutes are up. You get up yourself. Others get up--or, if there is but one other, she. So far, so good. But now that everybody is up, new subjects of conversation, as if catching this rising infection, come up also. You are in a position in which, except by rather too oratorical or dramatic a gesture, you cannot look at your watch; more than that, if you bore a person sitting down and wondering when you are going to get up, you bore far worse a person standing up and wondering when you will go away. That you have in effect started to go away--and not gone away--and yet must go away some time--and may go away at any minute: this consciousness, to a person standing first on one tired foot and then on the other, rapidly becomes almost, but never quite, unendurable. Reason totters, but remains on the throne. One can almost lay down a law: Two persons who do not part with kisses should part with haste.

The way to do is to go like the sky-rocket--up and out.

But the fifteen-minute call followed by the flying exit is at best only a niggling and unsatisfactory solution; it is next door to always staying at home. Then certainly you would never be a bore (except to the family); but neither by any possibility could you ever be that most desirable factor in life, the Not-Bore. The Hermit is a slacker. Better far to come out of your cave, mingle, bore as little as may be--and thank Heaven that here and there you meet one whom you somehow feel reasonably certain that you do not bore.

(The end)
Ralph Bergengren's essay: To Bore Or Not To Bore

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