As conveyed with exasperation in my previous entry on this blog, President Obama was expressly addressing national health care for a national audience tuned in to hear what he had to say about national health care when a journalist who either needed attention, or didn’t truly know why she was at the press conference and wasn’t paying attention, changed the subject. With one question, she accomplished what the GOP and its cadres of cranks have spent millions of dollars, calories and their diminishing reserves of human resources trying to do.
The average American has the attention span of an inch worm. And the cranial capacity of one. That makes people who should be listening to discussion instead of sound bites putty in the hands of those who would manipulate them, i.e., anyone who has an agenda, i.e., politicians, propagandists, talk show hosts, hate mongers and so on down the low road.
Interrupting is no longer impolite, it’s the rhythm and tenor of our lives. Chris Matthews asks a question but starts speaking before his guest can answer because what he has to say is more important—to him. A New York dinner party is a game of conversational counterpoint only seasoned pros can play. If you don’t instinctively know when to cut in—and by “when” I mean on the precise opportune breath—you’re sidelined.
Changing the subject is the new dialogue. I speak while your mind wanders and you speak while I wonder if you’ve heard anything I said. If I ask you, you’re apt not to answer because you’re thinking of what you want to say next.
Background music, loud and incessant, is the social essential. Without it, what is there to say? With it, does it matter?
Changing the subject is tactful when someone’s getting to you, deft when someone’s boring you, and legitimate when you want to make your point or pitch before the lunch you’re buying the person you’re finessing, by changing the subject, is over.
Finally, changing the subject comes a lot more naturally to all those you have to cope with than changing their minds does….
Which, not to change the subject, brings us back to where we started. We should be talking about national health care. And should be listening.