I come from a family of interrupters. We were and are not short of a thing or two to say. The two seem to go along together.
I have happy memories of childhood Sunday lunches: five people holding forth with vigour, often at the same time. Looking back it must have been daunting or at the very least tiring for visitors to the table. Luckily we had quite a few friends with the same attributes. I remember, for example, joint events with our friends, the Caplans. My contemporary, Sally, could – and still does – equal me in verbosity. And her father, Isador, could beat records with his long jokes.
Interrupting is not a nice thing to do, we are taught. Rude and disrespectful. So why do we do it? Impatience to put our point of view, anxiety that the conversation will move on before we have had our tuppence worth, anxiety perhaps that we will not remember our views to await the right time to put them, and sometimes impatience because we reckon we know what the other person is about to say and want to skip to the next point. I also have a tendency to run several conversations in my head at once: I am listening to the current conversation – but at the same time I have other ideas running in tandem. Very confusing for the listener.
I think I am a reasonable listener, but may not give this impression in my eagerness to participate actively. It is interesting that two of my friends whom I regard as the best listeners were both social workers. Did they choose this profession because they were good listeners, or did they learn the skill through their work?
If you have a line of argument or a good story you naturally want to finish it without being interrupted. My father had a story, perhaps apocryphal, about an old Oxford dodge for holding the floor: you start your sentence….. and pause….. continue the sentence – and immediately move onto the next sentence. Since your listeners are naturally well brought up, they would not dream of interrupting in mid-sentence when you take your breath, but wait in vain for a natural pause at the end of the sentence.
I don’t know if my brother-in-law, Peter, has heard this story. He didn’t go to Oxford, but he definitely pauses mid-sentence – and justifiably gets irritated if I interrupt him then.
Why am I thinking about interrupting just now? Because I have been listening to a programme about politics on the French radio station ‘France Culture’. All members of the panel – and the presenter – interrupted each other constantly. This happens all the time not just on radio and TV programmes but at social events.
One of the things I love about the French is the way they like to hold forth. (Chris used to find it more difficult in our early years here. He would prepare his contribution to the conversation, wait for a pause – too late, we were on to the next subject.) I may be drawn to this aspect of the French character, but it has not helped me to curb my tendency to interrupt. Everybody is doing it!
But now my desire to reform my bad interrupting habits has been strengthened by the realisation that I share this tendency with one of today’s more contemptible public figures: Donald Trump. Time to reform, to resist the temptation to interject with my point of view.