I consider myself a researcher… I love reading about subjects I find interesting, and learning what I can about them. When I first heard about The Topic, I dismissed it as something intelligent people choose to do from time to time.
A friend of mine described The Topic in a way that opened my eyes.
She referred to a person who is able to do something incredible, like watch a box of toothpicks drop and then tell you that there are 514 of them. That, she said, is what we’re talking about. It’s not so amazing, really, when you think that the person in question is always thinking of toothpicks, always rearranging them in his/her head, every minute of every hour of every day.
There is no barrier that says, ‘I’m tired of this subject, can I think of something else now?’ No such self-limiter exists, like it does in the rest of us, much as we think we’re into a subject. Therein lies the difference.
This special ability separates the dilettante from the true master of a trade/craft. The world’s experts on fill-in-the-blank have a touch of this, if not AS itself. The truth is, we need people like this.
I call it a love of learning. It’s part of what drew me to my husband. I adore learning about a subject secondhand. It’s my shameful secret that I get tired of reading dry textbooks (say, on math or science), but enjoy learning from a knowledgeable expert. We’ve delved into the world of optics, robotics, lasers, chemistry, rope (yes, there is a ton of info on rope), and the list goes on.
Is there a downside? Of course. We all have strengths and challenges.
The Topic can be difficult to deal with when, say, it’s about drains or cattle migrations. It can get old hearing someone discuss them ad nauseaum, day in, day out. It can be disturbing to talk to a loved one, only to have them spout the same information regardless of subject of conversation, audience (ex: grandparents, strangers, teachers, friends) or time of day.
Luckily, my husband, at an early age, encountered another boy who only discussed NASA missions. He learned self-control to avoid being ‘That Person’. Socially, this is invaluable.
We encourage our son to read and learn. We love to indulge him, to see his face glow and eyes light up. We give him encyclopedias, catalogs (he relishes them), books on his topics, whatever. It is about learning.
But we’re not doing him any favors if we allow him to monologue endlessly about one thing. Not just allow, for it goes further than that… by ‘allowing’, one teaches habits, and confirms that it’s okay to do something. It’s almost enabling. We have to be strong and help our kids set their own limits.
So we ended up doing the following:
- Setting time limits for Topic discussions
- He must consider his audience… is this something Grandma would be interested in? His friends at school? Fellow Star Wars enthusiasts?
- Engage the audience. Ask questions, allow some back and forth. Let everyone else get a chance to speak.
- Practice reading body language… make an interested face, then ask him to interpret your level of interest after a minute or two. Then look bored, don’t make eye contact, act restless; in short, give cues that indicate someone is tired of listening.
Everyone wishes they could tap into the passionate love of learning that these people take for granted. I would never change this about my loved ones, and work daily on helping them to understand the social niceties, so that others can enjoy their fount of knowledge as much as I do.