ROSE NOLEN: Sometimes, being out of the loop is a good place to be

Sunday, August 7, 2011 | 5:47 p.m. CDT; updated 7:36 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 9, 2011

COLUMBIA — Every now and then I like to exercise the right "not" to know.

For example, I feel uncomfortable when total strangers insist on sharing intimate details of their lives with me. I want to stop them and say something like, “I don’t really need to know that.”

Most of the time, they are telling me something I don’t even need to know about my best friend.

It’s risky to begin a conversation with anyone these days because you're never certain what you may be subjected to.

In my grandmother's day, it was considered impolite to introduce the subjects of politics and religion into a conversation. These two subjects were known to be controversial and could therefore lead to hard feelings.

If that were true today almost no one would be speaking. These days, it's hard to find a subject that is not controversial.

When I was a teenager, I held several jobs where I was expected to hold conversations with people to demonstrate that I was friendly. The worst, I think, was as an elevator operator.

I held so many meaningless conversations during that period in my life that I may have used up enough empty phrases to render myself speechless for 10 years.

It wasn’t until I began getting involved in community issues that I became known as a “people” person. Even then, I was never good at holding what I think of as “off-the- wall” discussions.

The fact that I never enjoyed gossip sessions prevented me from becoming a good "cliquey" person. Most of the time, I never know the latest word about anything.

I’m more likely to be out chasing obscure pieces of trivia than eavesdropping behind closed doors to overhear someone’s personal information.

Furthermore, I’m as near to committing suicide as I’ll ever be when someone attempts to discuss body parts with me. I’m squeamish, and I really can’t stand to hear about any surgical procedure involving human flesh.

My oldest sister was completely different. She couldn’t hear enough about other people’s surgeries. In fact she enjoyed comparing notes. She would actually inquire about the number of stones people had removed from their kidneys. She kept hers in a jar in her closet.

So, the more I think about it, it could be that I’m more out of touch with the contemporary social climate than other people are. When I’m examining the produce at the supermarket, for example, I am not there to overhear about women who are cheating on their husband’s or how many abortions somebody’s daughter has had or anyone’s domestic violence issues.

All I want to do is get my fruits and vegetables and make it through the checkout line with a few bucks left in my pocket.

At least once a week somebody tells me that I take things too seriously, and I need to "lighten up." It is true that I do believe things are getting worse instead of better. I do worry about people being out of work and unable to find jobs. I am concerned that the number of homes in foreclosure seems to increase.

I really don’t believe people are friendlier than they ever were. I believe they want to be heard and don’t want to be left out of the loop. Whenever I hear people talking about all the time they spend on social networks, I tend to wonder when they have time to visit with their live friends and members of their families.

It’s good to feel a sense of belonging when you are among members of your community. But I’ve lived long enough to be able to testify that familiarity is not always a good thing.

The ability to keep one’s self to one’s self is a virtue some people appreciate. In fact I’ve heard many people say that the less they know about people, the better they like them.

In any case, I don’t think I need to join Twitter or Facebook any time in the near future. It seems to me if one can make it in and out of a public place without being told more than one ever wanted to know, consider it a lucky incident.

Sometimes, not knowing some things is the best thing that can happen to me all day.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or sending her an email at

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Ellis Smith August 7, 2011 | 7:21 p.m.

For reasons which neither she nor our family were ever able to understand, my mother attracted all sorts of people who seemingly couldn't wait to unburden their innermost secrets and problems to her.

Priests and other spiritual advisors perform that function, but that's part of their job descriptions.

I'm sure those who confided in Mom went their way feeling better for having done so. The problem was that often their confidences had a depressing effect on Mom.

There is such a thing as too much information.

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Delcia Crockett August 10, 2011 | 10:54 p.m.

I am one of those people who seems to have "Tell me all your troubles" stamped on my forehead for life. Does "Hello, how are you?" mean we are asking for a full verbal journal in detail? But I do not mind really. That is why I have my prayer garden where I work in solitude and hold my deepest of thought/concern, early some mornings and why I have a prayer list that I hold dear and confidential given upward in thought to none but Him. I think the most difficult to "let go and let God" is when a child tells me something that is heart-punctuating. I can identify with what this writer is saying, because I was taught the same things she was, more or less, and there are some self-centered people who will monopolize each and every conversation with talk of all the boring little details of their life about people they know that are not remotely connected to you and you have never met them and never will. They will go on and on, and in the most boring way possible. But then there are the ones, that if you listen, you have brightened their lives - just as Ellis says here. For example, I have a best friend whose husband is dying with cancer, and I would not trade conversations with her for anything, because she is interesting and real - nothing phony or selfish about her, at all. I don't think I have ever revealed a confidence, and so it is easy to escape the boring but really care about those who need to have someone who can listen, now and then. I know that listening is a lost art sometimes, but yet I know a minister, or two, who are most valuable to humanity because they are the best of listeners ever put on earth. Sometimes, I have wondered how they do that on a continual basis - listening to someone go on and on - but then they do not try to escape, as the rest of us can sometimes, with some excuse or the other we might have - and still be polite. Kudos to this writer for a brilliant observation of a life truth. Great read!

: )

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