You're talking with friends over coffee after Church, and as you leave one group of people and are about to join someone you wanted to see, you see someone heading towards you who you really don't want to talk to... someone who obviously talks for the sake of talking (or for the sake of feeling that someone's prepared to listen to them (whether or not they really want to ) and so can have some affirmation squeezed out of them), who doesn't really fit in (and knows it) and has to try to trap people into conversations as they are generally unpopular (because they trap people into corners to talk to them), and besides they're boring because they talk for the sake of it... and yet you feel that to be a `good Christian', you really ought to put up with them for a few minutes so they don't feel so left out (because everyone knows to some extent what it feels like to be left out, even if they try to forget it!). So, you let them buttonhole you (or walk the other way avoid them, feeling guilty)... now that is the wrong attitude, according to this text. Although you were aware of their need, what was uppermost in your mind was your own feelings about how much you wanted not to have this person corner you... you were thinking in terms of your sacrifice, that you `ought' to make `to be a good Christian', not about how much gratification you could give them by letting them have what they want... (but is gratification good, anyway?)

Aside: I don't know what to do in this situation, either! Obviously, the really loving thing to do is to actually help them, and I doubt that that means giving them a few minutes conversation even if you manage to hide how much you'd rather be talking to someone else! Being a person of no small talk, and becoming steadily more direct with what I perceive to be God's truth, I'm getting closer to saying, the next time I'm cornered like that, ``I can tell that you desperately want to talk, so you won't feel so lonely, and I'm sorry for you and I really wish I could do something to help, but I'm no good at talking for the sake of it and it makes me feel stupid to try; you can have my attention for a while but you'll have to tell me what to say in response to each of your sentences, and I actually don't like you anyway so at best you'd only be fooling yourself, so you might as well talk to yourself.'' That doesn't sound very loving either, but love isn't the soft option that some people think it is, and I'm not sure that this compares all that badly with living a lie and giving them that begrudged and dishonest attempt at conversation...

The mission to buttonholers?

Some people can cope with being used to talk to in attempts to pretend to be more popular than one is... I'm wondering whether something like a ``friendship evangelism café'' could be set up by those who can, for those who need? But how can I say to someone ``Would you find it helpful to have someone set up a project to find people to talk to people with needs like yours''?

Is there hope?

Perhaps, once the desparation is taken off someone's need, they may be able to develop actual interests and talk about them naturally, and gradually move into not using people to talk to.

A further observation

Buttonholers' conversation often contains a lot of droning on about their woes. They are hard done by, and that is the main thing that comes to the surface for them to talk about. I suspect that telling them to look on the bright side of life is little better than saying ``pull yourself together'' to a depressive. I might try saying ``Well, you're not doing that badly, are you?''. I suspect this may often end the conversation, however. Not sure what is kindest in this situation... letting them enwoe themselves more deeply, although it's what they seem to want, is probably not going to improve their state much.

John C. G. Sturdy
[John's home] Last modified: Sun Jun 10 18:17:20 GMT Daylight Time 2007