I’ll Take Civility and Good Conversation Over Brash Egotism Any Day

I’ll Take Civility and Good Conversation Over Brash Egotism Any Day
Lindsay Shepherd

A few months ago I was invited to a small dinner event with someone infinitely more famous and influential than I will ever be.

I learned that one of the other dinner invitees was someone I knew of who was also in his 20s and lived rather close to me. I had never met this individual, though I had always meant to reach out to him to see if he’d want to work together in some of my political and professional circles.

Thus, I was just as invested in meeting this neighbour of mine as I was in getting together with the famous and influential person who was also invited.

The local man, let’s call him Merv, was the only one already seated at the restaurant when I arrived.

“Hi!” I smiled warmly at him as I approached the table. “You must be Merv.”

He didn’t stand up or offer a hand (he was holding his smartphone), nor did he reciprocate a smile or gesture for me to take a seat. It wasn’t the greatest impression, but I let it go. I’ve forgotten my manners at times as well, such as inviting house guests in and not immediately offering them a beverage.

I pretended to study the menu while waiting for him to finish texting and stow his phone away. He didn’t.

I cleared my throat. “Have you met the famous and influential person before?” I asked Merv.

I tried a couple more conversation starters, but he was simply not the least bit interested in engaging with me.

Could I have given up and simply pulled out my phone as well? Sure. But I had been genuinely interested in getting to know Merv, and I didn’t want the famous and influential person to arrive at our table just to see two withdrawn individuals looking down at their screens.

It went on for another painful 10 minutes or so. I ask a question, he gives a short answer while barely looking up from his screen. Well, I suppose he did interrupt his texting a couple times to name-drop the important people he was texting. And he did ask me one substantial question: whether or not I follow him on social media.

“Are you –” I started.

“Oh, one sec, I was just about to make this call,” he said, with one finger in the air to shush me.

No matter: I had mentally rescinded my invitation to collaborate with him nine minutes ago.

The guests of honour then arrived. I stood up to shake their hands; Merv glanced at me before quickly rising to do the same.

Finally, upon the famous and influential person’s arrival, Merv pocketed his phone. I see how it is, I thought.

And yet, even sans phone, the situation didn’t improve.

Merv proceeded to treat the dinner party like a personal consultation session with the famous and influential person. Every time he spoke, it was either to name-drop the other famous and influential people he knew, ask for personalized advice on his professional life, or talk about his upbringing and trauma.

Don’t fret: I didn’t let Merv ruin my evening, and I didn’t retaliate. I was able to get my words in at the dinner, all while still including Merv in the conversation.

By the end of the night, I was mostly just relieved, grateful to myself for not reaching out to Merv before knowing what a brute he was. Merv had appeared well-mannered on social media. How important it was to meet people in real life (and not just over Zoom) to see their true nature.

Contrast this with the week I just spent among 20 fellows hailing from Canada, the United States, Australia, the UK, and Eastern Europe at a conference in Edinburgh. The fellows, in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, had gathered to learn about the Scottish Enlightenment and the values of liberty and prosperity.

The fellowship program directors asked us to refrain from bringing our phones to the lectures, and they only had to say it once. Even outside of class time, while mingling at the coffee station and socializing in the lounge, phones were not in sight.

The fellows and faculty actually wanted to get acquainted with one another, and they put in the effort to do so. People poured water for those sitting beside them. They picked up on social cues. They carried conversation along by asking thoughtful questions. Topics of conversation were centred on ideas and faculty lectures rather than endless meanderings about one’s own childhood memories. The fellows were well-dressed, and not one of the 20 was overweight—they had standards for themselves and, consequently, others around them.

My daily life as a work-from-home Canadian is quite bleak. In the physical world I’m surrounded by Mervs who are incapable of speaking to other real-life humans and turn to their phones as a crutch, and in the social media realm I am interacting with ideologues who rely on shock value and crudeness to convey their political points.

Our culture boosts brash activists who vow to “make people uncomfortable” and base their activism on “starting uncomfortable conversations.”

Really, these types of people are miserable, off-putting, and unable to persuade people with the quality of their arguments. They instead rely on shaming, name-calling, and threats.

In our culture, being pleasant in the company of acquaintances is no longer required, valued, or taught. The only time we really demand pleasantness is from our waiters and waitresses, who will perform it for us in exchange for a tip.

So what a delight it was, at that small conference in Scotland, to be around people who poured water for their colleagues (acknowledging the presence of their seatmates), presented themselves respectfully (contributing to an elevated atmosphere for all), and stowed away their phones (self-explanatory).

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Lindsay Shepherd is a Canadian columnist, educator, and free speech activist.
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