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Keep Yourself to Yourself. . .

A section of an old fieldstone wall from my old stomping grounds of southeastern Pennsylvania.

Mending Wall -- Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors." 

It strikes me that one hallmark of a stylish adult male is knowing how to keep yourself to yourself.  In other words, be sensitive to the fact that others, some of them anyway, like and need their space.  So, when you meet people for the first time, it's perhaps best to leave a little for later.  In plainer language, resist the urge -- largely a nervous American one it seems -- to spill your guts, overshare, and jump into a new acquaintanceship or friendship up to your eyebrows.  

Naturally, most of us experience a friendly enthusiasm  with both new acquaintances and old friends and wish to make people feel at ease, which is fine.  And cold aloofness is not what I mean before anyone misinterprets my point here.  Rather, instead of throwing the doors of your life open wide and volunteering all kinds of information about yourself, your family, activities, and affiliations right off the bat, with the implication that the same is expected in return, how about saving a little something for later?  It's really preferable to rein things in just a bit, keep yourself to yourself, and let those (potential) new relationships develop and mature overtime.

-- Heinz-Ulrich


guy said…
A good point. I think it is a balance. On one side you have someone like Patrick O'Brien the author who was almost pathological in not disclosing any personal information. On the other extreme are these people who insist on telling you their life story at the first meeting. This is usually linked to large amounts of physical contact. I don't know you so why on earth do some people feel the need to hug me within minutes? On first acquaintance what is wrong with a hand shake rather than a continental double kiss or a pseudo bear hug.

Now I have nothing against hugging per se. It infuriates my father to be hugged by my brother in a public place such as a restaurant but he always says it is to make up for the lack of hugs in his childhood. Seriously though there used to be an art of what I call cocktail party conversation. Polite chattering which is interesting and equally balanced but doesn't stray into topics such as politics, religion or rude jokes. I think it comes down to the inability of some people to have any interest in anything except themselves or worse. How dull and frankly rude. I dare not stray into the problem of people only talking about their perfect children.


PS I did enjoy the poem. I haven't read that for 30 years when I did Robert frost for A level English.
Thank you for your comment, Guy. I agree wholeheartedly. As many others have noted, the art of pleasant, entertaining conversation, if not dead altogether, is certainly lost on many, many people these days. And yes. Spare me the false bonhomie of hugs and/or chitchat about children. How dull that is about anyone's other than your own. By the way, glad you enjoyed the poem. I learned about Robert Frost through my mother, when I had to memorize and recite the lengthy After Applepicking as an 11-year-old for school. Mom was the one who suggested that I might like Robert Frost and handed me a book of his work that she had on one of the bookshelves.

Best Regards,

guy said…
Well as a result of this I went out yesterday and bought a copy of the collected poems of Robert Frost and had a good read last night. Memories of English A level came flooding back!

We also did various Steinbeck novels and To Kill a Mocking Bird. Coincidently here in the UK there has been much recent political discussion as to whether this US literature should be studied or something else. I can only say personally that I thoroughly enjoyed the course. Perhaps the moral of the story is to take absolutely no notice of whatever a politician says.

Ah, my work here is done! ;-) Have a good day, Guy.

Best Regards,

Heinz-Ulrich von B.
Anonymous said…
Thanks very much for this post. I too am puzzled by the amount of personal information people share with strangers. Do these same folks decry the invasive efforts of the NSA? Since part of social interaction is sharing a bit of personal information, I inquire about “what books are you enjoying” or “do you have a hobby you look forward to each weekend”. And, I cheerfully discuss the same. However, I never ask anyone how they earn their living and have never exchanged business cards outside of a business conversation. I do carry and offer social cards (calling cards) for social settings.

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