Letter from the Editor 10.19.2021
On conversations, canceled coffee chats, and craving attention
Last semester, I felt conversation–starved. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t talking to people. On the contrary I was talking to everyone: my mother (about The Bachelorette), my roommate (about who would do the dishes), and my co–workers (about deliverables, obviously). Every exchange hovered just above transactional, but slightly below actual small talk. We’d chat about the weekend and the weather and what vaccine we’d got, but nothing more. It was always about what we were doing. Never why we were doing it, or if we should be.
At one point, I could not recall the last time someone earnestly asked how I was feeling. The first time someone did, I burst, crying about things I didn’t even know bothered me—mostly because I never got the chance to enunciate them. Unloading felt therapeutic in a bad way, like I would never again earn a conversation because I wasted it whining.
I suspect a lot of people feel this way, unheard yet constantly communicating. Penn is a cauldron of pleasantries, of pre–professionalized familiarity and coffee dates that don’t materialize. As much as Penn Face is about faking okayness, it’s equally about faking friendliness, with most conversations fizzling out once they stop holding utility. It’s useful to know where our classmates are working and if they like their economics professor. Everything else? Dead air.
Perhaps we don’t keep lunch plans because we don’t know what to say during them, our interest dwindling once we push past internship talk and complaints about our course load. Talking is hard. Chatting, on the other hand, is too easy.
This issue is about the art of conversation and how listening can drive impact. Our Word on the Street essay is about what happens when your friends listen to your assaulter over you, while our feature focuses on a student who struggled to get Penn to hear him. And while our lighter fare is full of plenty of interviews, the bottom line is this: Conversations count, so we ought to stop avoiding the hard ones.
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