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Bantering

“Perhaps it is indeed time I began to look at this whole matter of bantering more enthusiastically. After all, when one thinks about it, it is not such a foolish thing to indulge in – particularly if it is the case that in bantering lies the key to human warmth.“ [1]


The main character in ‘The Remains of the Day’ utters these words at the end of the book. Much to his surprise, the fellow in question finds himself friendless at a late stage in his life. As readers, we have spent the whole book desperately willing this man, an English butler who convinces himself he is full of ‘dignity’, to espouse at least one personal view – but it doesn’t happen. It’s nothing short of tragic.


The sheer frustration of reading about someone who is utterly concerned with maintaining a so-called professional exterior so as not to jeopardise his self ascribed dignity, almost saw me shut the book a dozen times. But I ploughed on, convinced that at least one personal interaction with another character would help to prise apart this one dimensional fellow into a state of openness. It didn’t happen.


I have the opposite problem. I love to banter to the point where I start to say to myself ‘Do NOT engage with this person in the supermarket line, the queue for the ladies’ toilet, a co-customer waiting for coffee, fellow public transport commuters’… the list goes on.


I confess bantering is in my DNA - I come from a long line of banterers. My mother in particular never missed an opportunity to deliver a quip or two to strangers, irrespective of the circumstance. Her solecism was usually around offering unsolicited comments especially in department store change rooms – ouch!


While I admit to having to pull it back from time to time – I can’t resist. Bantering is light, friendly and humorous. It’s spontaneous and good-natured. It has the capacity to connect people who know nothing about each other, as well as strengthen bonds between pre-existing acquaintances, friends and colleagues.


What makes bantering work? I think being keenly observant of what’s happening around is important, the willingness to open up a conversation with someone who may be a stranger (or not), sensitivity to the situations of others, an acute understanding of self – and empathy.


There’s something about bantering that can make you feel great. You see someone, you ‘get’ their circumstance, you recognise your own situation and you discern the connection point. Bingo. You share something with this person and you’re willing to articulate it in a way that will make them feel good. The key I suspect is ensuring your bantering hits a sweet spot with your interlocutor! Like all conversations – it has to be good for each party.

[1] Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day, Faber and Faber, January 08, 2009


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