Tuesday, June 10, 2008

No Throw-Away Questions

i don't know if you feel this way, but i am often faced with the realization that, for me, there are no throw-away questions. That is, whenever someone asks what would normally be a rhetorical question, i feel compelled to try to answer it, even if only to myself. As an example, i was recently with some friends, one of which is one of seven brothers in his family (no sisters). Another friend said, "Wow, what are the odds of that?" i'm pretty sure he just meant that seven children of one gender is a rare occurrence, and worth noting. My brain, however, had to answer the question:

Well, as long as we accept that the probability for a boy is 50%, then the probability of having seven boys (given that you are having seven children) is 1/2^7, which is 1/128, or a little less than 1%. If the question was asking what the odds are that all the children were the same gender, boy or girl, than that increases the probability to 1/64, or less than 2%. Of course, the question could also be, "What are the odds of meeting someone who is one of seven brothers with no sisters?" In that case, you'd need to know the distribution of family size... Or i could just assume that the question meant, "What are the odds that our friend is one of seven brothers?" That's easy! 100% That's my final answer.

Thankfully, i've trained myself so that this conversation is internal and not released on the general public (for the most part - i do know some people who would be exposed to those thoughts (my wife, for one - i'm so grateful for a nerdy wife!)). i've also trained myself on some elements of social etiquette. When i pass someone in the hall at work and they ask me how i'm doing, i just say, "Good." and that's that, rather than thinking for 10 seconds and then telling them how i'm really doing. i have come to understand that they don't actually want to know how i'm doing. Unfortunately (and this happens almost every time), five seconds after we've had our short pseudo-conversation, i remember that the other half of said social discourse is that i ask them how they're doing. By that time it's too late, so i leave everyone thinking (correctly) that i'm only half way to courteous. My problem is that i don't really care how they're doing. Or rather, i don't care to spend time stopping in a hallway to hear how they're doing (i usually would be glad to listen to them if they really wanted to tell me about their life). So i don't ask, and it's only after we're separated by a good 5 meters that i realize that i should have asked anyway. Really, this happens at least 90% of the time. Is there something wrong with me (short answer - yes)?

i think that's why i've had so much trouble in the past with small talk. i have trouble translating the fact that i desire a relationship with a person into a desire to talk about random topics. i'm actually much better now than i used to be - i don't mind a small dose of small talk, but i'm still bad at generating it myself. i now enjoy a good conversation with my friends, even the parts that are small talk-y, because i value their thoughts and their relationships. i still have a hard time with people i don't know as well, though. Does anyone else have this problem?

2 unique comments:

Kim said...

Well, I just realized that I commented on the wrong blog.So read my other comment on the other blog and and that is my response to this blog....Love you tons!!!
Mom

Paul said...

ok...I have this problem too, but not in the same way. However, I just assume that no one really wants to know or tell anyone else how they are doing, but it is sort of like waving...you do it to be polite and to see if such a gesture might start an actual conversation...if not, you go on and no one is offended. One simply cannot, at least not very successfully, divest the social milieu one finds oneself in.