Happy Talker Certainties


 There is a kind of certainty I find cringe-worthy. It's the false certainty of the happy talkers, who at the drop of a hat fill the air with their banal expressions of hopefulness and positivity. 

 All lies and self-deception, in my estimate, but often accepted, even applauded, in most social settings. (or lecture halls) 

 For myself, in the presence of the inane expressions of the happy talkers, I am inclined to flee for my life. Or, if somehow I can pull it off, to be a part of creating a sacred space for real conversation to occur.

 You see, my problem with jocular certainty is its conversation stopping effect. When it dominates in social settings, it effectively suppresses other dimensions of reality, as if somehow these do not even exist.

 Thus where the happy talkers abound, what goes missing is any exploration of less certain realms, such as the dimensions of the unknown, the mysterious and the tragic. 

 And without an exploration of reality’s multi-dimensions, no real meaning or joy can be found. For the experience of real joy does not happen automatically, since real joy is a possibility only for those who, in Victor Frankl’s words, engage in "the search for ultimate meaning.”  

 Now, in family therapist, Virginia Satir’s, estimate, the appearance of happy talk at the social event is an indication of a cover-up.

 Happy talk is the speciality of families who have lots of things hidden in their closets, about which no comments are allowed. Though the elephants are plainly in the room, everyone pretends not to notice. So the superficial talk takes over to keep reality at bay. 

 According to Satir, this kind of carrying on is always indirect in its nature. Its chief characteristic is that it is general, vague and flowery.  

 Now the contrast to such threadbare party talk are the magical connections that can occur when a truly sacred space is created.

 But the creation of conversational magic depends upon what Virginia calls leveling conversation. This is a style of conversing that is direct and straightforward.

 It is when someone actually means what he says. It is when his language and behavior is direct, straightforward, and congruent with his honest and authentic self. 

 How rare and wonderful it is to find someone, somewhere, whose presence is a lively embodiment of this level of authenticity! 

 Imagine, if you will, for example, actually meeting someone at the Christmas bash whose presence is an instance of congruence. Which is to actually meet someone who inwardly coheres. 

 Such a one, according to Satir, is living a life that is a congruent harmony between her actions, her tone of voice, her posture and her gestures. 

 For me, many a social event has been saved by ending up in a corner with someone whose outer life matches her inner one, or with someone who is seeking that coherence with all her heart.

 Such a reality seeker, a leveler, in Virginia Satir’s terms, is someone whose first impulse upon meeting another human being is always to pause before speaking, because she is actively listening to you! That is, her first impulse is to draw you out, instead of to happy talk you to death.

 Such a congruent person is also very comfortable with silence, and will therefore refuse to cover over uncomfortable silences with peppy, small talk.

 So, to sum up so far - I’ve got a problem with the happy talkers who appear to me to live in a protective bubble of one-dimensional positivity.

 Now it appears that Thomas Payne, the author of Common Sense, the most widely read book of the 18th century, lived in just such a bubble of naive certainties. He was full of happy talk certainties, especially about the revolution in France.

 Tom Payne is described by the philosopher, Daniel R. Robinson, as someone whose focus was always upon the immediate and the sensational. He offered kool-aid for the masses. 

 For Payne there were never any deeper considerations to ponder such as the wisdom of the past from great sages and seers, nor was there anything to be gained by a study of religion or tradition. 

 Payne chose not to learn from the past, but instead disparaged it.

 All that mattered to this preacher of hope and change was for the French Revolution to triumph. 

 So to make his appeal Payne "spoke to people on intimate terms and addressed them at the level of their most immediate concerns.” (Daniel N. Robinson, Burke and Payne, The Great Courses) 

 The liberation would come, thought Payne, when all hierarchies were smashed. As he superfically explained: "You cannot find titles in the Bible! Nowhere in Genesis does one find dukes, barons, and princes.” 

 When Edmund Burke warned that the French were going too far in their "elimination of age-old institutional restraints” - when he warned that the only liberation would be the liberation of "human nature’s worst instincts,” Payne mocked and jeered.  

 He criticized Burke who he said, "pities the plumage but forgets the dying bird” - his point being that Burke’s idea that there is any plumage on the bird, that is, anything of beauty in the French culture, is a fancy, for, according to Payne, no such plumage exists! There is no beauty. There is only a dying bird

 There is, in other words, according to Payne, nothing worth saving. Therefore, bring it all down! Destroy everything! 

 Edmund Burke was a total contrast to Payne. Unlike Payne, he was a student of history and a man grounded in great principles.

 Indeed, says Robinson, Burke was “ever at the level of high principle. He seems to see everything from a time before Solon, maybe even from a time before Moses.

 In his wisdom, Burke therefore warned that only trouble lay ahead for France. There was not going to be any liberty or equality.

 And was proven correct as the Terror began and the guillotine fell.

 Tom Payne’s hopeful predictions, his happy talk certainties, were then clearly shown to have been but a lot of gas.

 And this is again the problem with the happy talking professors of hope and change - that they are predisposed not to contemplate the domain of the uncertain.

 As I wrote, they live in a protective bubble of one-dimensional positivity, inclined not to explore the realms of the unknown, mysterious and the tragic. 

 And to be sure, these bubble dwellers are "biased against uncertainty” and prone, because of their self-inclosed orientation, to "underestimate uncertainty.” All of the happy talking confidence "a sure sign of fraudulence." (William Easterly, the WSJ, Dec. 06, 2016)

 And so it is that we turn to an Edmund Burke for the wisdom that the happy talkers ignore. 

 Or to a Thomas Merton who said about the happy talking certainty pushers: “Despair of men and their plans. Be not of their world. Disassociate yourself from all who have theories which promise clear and infallible solutions.

 Do not, says Merton, "crowd the sacred space" with your happy talker certainties

 Do not, take up the space “where God should be.” (Thomas Merton, Seeds, p. 138)