Voices

Has Coronavirus Made Us Forget the Art of Polite Conversation?

Can we blame COVID for making us too blunt, too direct and too raw to the point that we don’t feel the need to sugar-coat or censor ourselves?

By Richa Tilokani

The lockdowns have been a period of great personal improvement and dramatic transformation.

For some people, at least. Many have initiated self-improvement projects, others are becoming more compassionate, while some are discovering long-lost talents.

I, on the other hand, seem to have forgotten the gentle art of making small talk – the primary tool critical for our survival in polite society. With technology now added into the mix, it’s become a fairly challenging adventure for the best of us. Let me elaborate.

During our last group chat with friends, I noticed how most of them were complaining that the first half of 2020 had been the worst period of their lives. It seemed like everything was going wrong at the same time – with the whole world affected by the virus, alien visits to Earth (are they friendly?), job losses, locust attacks, the misery of the displaced and a killer cyclone, to top it all.

I wanted to make them feel better so I chimed in, “Let’s not get carried away, guys. I am sure the second half will be equally or much worse. Zombies and killer bees are still to make an appearance.” Pin-drop silence. Pained expressions. Nobody seemed to be in a mood to accept a joke, so I logged off hurriedly.

Richa Tilokani

With all that is happening currently, what was so wrong in what I said, I wondered? (I didn’t even get the chance to add the bit about the earthquake.) I wanted a neutral opinion, so I narrated the incident to my husband and asked for his view. He looked at me as if I was the alien (I am definitely friendly-ish, considering my mood is often fluctuating like the stock market).

He then signalled that he was on his own Zoom call. I heard him mentioning the pros of lockdown like avoiding the commute to office, less pollution, et cetera. I wanted to prove to him that I could say the right thing at the right time and so I added, “The lockdown also helps you avoid horrible co-workers and your difficult boss.” His face paled and I realised he was on a conference call with his entire team – and he wasn’t on mute. That went well, I guess.

I slunk out of the room and googled the availability of sound-proof masks for home wear.  

How could have I guessed he was on an official call? Should I call my sister and ask her? Does she have any tips to manage/improve inter-personal relationships in the age of the pandemic?

Unlock your potential, she says vaguely.

I guess, unlock is on everyone’s mind now. “You mean, like let my true nature shine through?” She’s horrified, “Please, whatever you do, don’t be yourself.” Silence. Seriously, has everyone forgotten the art of polite conversation?

Can we blame this also on the coronavirus? For making us too blunt, too direct and too raw to the point that we don’t feel the need to sugar-coat or censor ourselves?

Perhaps, it’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that we are too stressed. We are processing a lot and it is getting difficult to handle. It’s said that exercise can help us manage stress better, so maybe I will work out today (or this month). Or maybe I will call my friends and explain what I was really trying to say (or not). But if they start whining, complaining and cribbing again, I am going to find the cure for the virus myself.

Richa Tilokani is a Chennai-based media and communications professional

Lead image: Silviu Costin Iancu / Pixabay 

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