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Saturday, Aug 17, 2019

Humour: Dodging the curveball

How to keep your equilibrium when offered unsolicited advice by pesky well-wishers

brunch Updated: Aug 10, 2019 22:06 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
No matter how committed you are to truth and sincerity, there’s always that interaction from hell that pushes your ethical boundaries
No matter how committed you are to truth and sincerity, there’s always that interaction from hell that pushes your ethical boundaries(Photo imaging: Parth Garg)

There are moments in every person’s life when there is no way out of a sticky conversation other than by the use of subterfuge or deceit. No matter how committed you are to truth and sincerity, there’s always that interaction from hell that pushes your ethical boundaries. The offender is someone you cannot outright alienate or dismiss. Nor can you endure the ostensibly well-meaning advice that pushes all the wrong buttons (a lift operator’s nightmare?).You stutter, look away awkwardly, try to change the subject, but to no avail. Here’s a list of the most common of these conversational trapdoors and the means of avoiding them in the most elegant, if duplicitous, way possible.

Career spiel

The good news is, people are finally waking up to the fact that asking someone what they do in the first minute of conversation may be construed as rude. The bad news is they don’t care. “So why don’t you write Netflix/Amazon scripts? That’s really big these days,” they say sagely while swirling a wine glass in their supercilious hand. (Substitute this with whatever is big in your industry these days.) Your whole life flashes before your eyes. But fear not – there is an instant way out: bitcoin. The professionally accomplished love to talk about bitcoin and virtual currency. If you can make a virtual currency analogy with your current vocation, you’ll earn serious brownie points with your insufferable inquisitor. If bitcoin is actually your vocation, you will never be offered professional advice.

Romance speak

This one’s a slippery slope. Romance, marriage, children, homes, education, vacations… the conversational possibilities are endless and unendurable. Here you need to channel the masters. A sufi reference always helps in a tricky situation. Perhaps a Rumi quote. Something about quests and wanderers and fields and mystics. About knowing where you’re headed when you arrive. The treacherous possibilities of poetry are immense. In fact, if you’re expecting a difficult room, carry a Rumi anthology as protection. Like a crucifix to a vampire, effendi.

Fitness chatter

Very few queries directed towards one’s health are really about one’s health, thankfully. They’re just hopeful forays into a conversation zone that allows the speaker to boast about their own life-changing new diet/fitness routine/wellness regimen. Prey on this self-congratulatory quality of your healthful opponent.

If you’re expecting a difficult room, carry a rumi anthology as protection. Like a crucifix to a vampire, effendi.

Deflect the earliest accusation of paleness or paunchiness with a robust compliment. Say things like, “I love your energy. Is it keto, isometrics or the drum circle thing?” Wait for the torrent of organic goodness to engulf you. Make up for it with a burger.

Ideological debate

This can get difficult. Politics and religion. Climate change and football. The occult and Game of Thrones. There are more things than ever to disagree on. I’ve personally exhausted my entire repertoire of responses, from dramatic walkouts to earnest discussion. Too exhausting. Try the infuriating art of passive aggressive agreement. Whatever your worthy opponent says, you agree to enthusiastically, if not fully sincerely. If they say, “I saw a unicorn Thursday morning…” you seize the moment and say, “I absolutely believe you saw a unicorn Thursday morning.” The mocking emphasis on the “you” will deflate even the most self-confident declaimer.

Future talk

“Where do you see yourself five years from now?” is one of those corporate clichés that has turned into a sort of social litmus test. Even as the rivers dry up, the avalanches come crashing and the wildlife recedes, everyone you speak to is constantly worried about your future in terms of real estate, brand image or social media currency. When your questioner insists on being prosaic, you respond by being outlandish. Share your most fanciful notions. Your lifelong dream to research a bird in Fiji. To start a bakery in a Nordic village. To start a band in Egyptian. Don’t worry about authenticity. The wilder the dream, the more admiring the response; people know they’re supposed to respect ambition. And the farther away from home your ambition takes you, the greater the impact. Imagine if you were to share your actual future plans – getting into bed by 10 with an undemanding book, phone and conscience on silent – what a sorry figure you would cut.

From HT Brunch, August 11, 2019

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First Published: Aug 10, 2019 22:02 IST

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