Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Invitation to Respond

It’s always been a challenging question even for someone like me not adept in the game of communication. Do people have a responsibility to respond when you send them a greeting, comment, update or any other form of communication? Some of my friends argue that one comment doesn’t necessarily deserve or require a response. Other friends argue just as emphatically that any communication requires at least some kind of cursory response. They argue that the initial communique is usually meant to be ‘an invitation to respond.’

I’m one of those guys who likes to hear back from anyone I’ve sent a message to unless it’s a simple comment that obviously doesn’t require a response. Every once in a while I’ll send a message to a friend and never get a response. That’s always disappointing for someone who spends an inordinate amount of time on the computer. My e-mail is only one pinke tap away and unfortunately it has become an all too familiar finger twitch at least a half dozen times an hour.

Yet I’m reminded by my smarter, better half that life doesn’t always go smoothly in that arena. There is the all too familiar circle-of-life phenomena in which friends, associates, compadres, girlfriends, classmates, roommates, pals and partners float, land, slide or otherwise come into our lives and just as quickly leave it again. It’s happened to me dozens of times in school, the service, work, voluntary organizations, trips and events. Rock solid relationships held tight by happenstance and circumstance that eventually break apart and slide away like sand on the beach.

As perplexing as people are who don’t respond so too are those who don’t follow through with initial connections. An old friend, fifty years past, wrote me out of the blue one day. Her e-mail cut straight to the point.  “You did become a writer” it said…and that was it. After fifty years it was one line and then she signed her name and suggested we become ‘friends’ on Facebook. Rather curious, I thought. My interest was piqued. After that initial contact there was some lite correspondence over time but nothing that formed a solid bond of communication. It never turned out the way I thought it might. To this day I still don’t know why.

I’m also fascinated by some people’s inability or unwillingness to keep their word or simply follow-through on promises made. We sometimes see false bravado in young men or small children. It’s part of their growing into adulthood. How is it that some adults haven’t been able to shake off that habit of somehow believing what they say to be true when we (and I suspect they) know it isn’t so? It turns out that speaking one’s mind and meaning it are not always intrinsically linked together.

I knew a skipper who had the habit of recruiting crew members for his sailboat on Lake Superior. When we first met he asked if I would be interested in ‘crewing.’ I was thrilled at the thought of sailing on Gitche Gume. He promised to call but he never did. When I bumped into him at another party he asked me the same question.  It was only after I commented to a mutual friend that I was told that ‘the skipper’ had a habit of ‘recruiting’ anytime he met someone new. He had never once followed through with his promise of taking new recruits on the high seas. It was just a social crutch he used to spice up his conversation instead of contributing something of sub-stance.

Another case in point was an occasional visitor to Palm Springs. He loved the area and was always talking about purchasing a condo there. We would often check out ‘open houses’ when he was in town. He talked and talked but never once seriously made an offer to buy. I came to realize it was just part of his routine dialogue and he never meant a word of it.

It’s exciting when past acquaintances are rekindled and friendships renewed. Then disappointing when some of those connections dissipate once again with the coming of nightfall. What’s even more disappointing is the realization that it’s the other party who doesn’t want the connection to continue. That’s happened to me on Facebook several times when old acquaintances contacted me then for some inexplicable reason never respond back again.

My interpersonal radar has gotten much better over time. I’m more adept at detecting false bravado and bull…oney from my fellow man. The other sex is something entirely different. I guess I’ll just continue to plod along making friends where I can and hope that what they tell me in the course of normal conversation has some basis in truth. I’d like to think of it as being open and honest…or at least my version of that reality.

There ought to be a course one could take in relationships, love, communication and other interpersonal social skills. Oh, I guess there already is. It’s called life.  I’ve been a student in that class for a very long time now. No graduation yet in sight.

But if any of my old friends or acquaintances gets this message, please stay in touch.

I’d love to hear from you.

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