No one warned us about this malady when we were children, but we were exposed to it every day. I remained largely blind to its insidious effects even when I was an undergrad in college. I should have realized that an American Art History professor was a sufferer of Teacher’s Blathering Disease (TBD). She droned on after one of her students fainted in front of her and never bothered to help while another student caught the stricken man and propped him up in his seat. The professor simply couldn’t stop herself from making one more point, one more appeasement to her anxiety to be heard and understood. Or perhaps the sound of her voice had become so sweetly intoxicating that she simply could not cut off the flow.
Years later when my children started to attend grade school I noticed another symptom of TBD: a kindergarten teacher at a school gathering could not distinguish between students and parents. Her daily communication with five year olds had created habituated neural pathways that rendered her incapable of complex speech. She talked to us adults slowly…with…simple…words…that she carefully spaced so that we had time to comprehend their meaning. She used big, enthusiastic gestures and facial expressions even when talking about mundane topics (REMEMBER to bring in BOXES of TISSUES and extra PENCILS!!!). She repeated herself several times as if concerned that her audience couldn’t remember and follow simple instructions: “The Thanksgiving Holiday starts on Wednesday, not Thursday, next week. So don’t bring your kids to school on Wednesday…or Thursday or Friday. No one will be here on any of those days, you know, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Have a happy holiday next week on Wednesday, Thurs–” (The principal led the poor woman away at that point. The kiddie chorus jumped in and sang about a Thanksgiving turkey who wanted to live so that he could achieve his dream of learning how to fly.)
And I encountered a variant of TBD mostly found in the retired professor host population: the need to be the most knowledgeable person in the room. I attended a church in a university town that was lousy with white bearded coots who suffered from an insatiable desire to impress any victim who came within earshot. And they didn’t rant just about subjects in which they had been trained. They could bloviate about sundry topics while basing their arguments on hearsay they had just read in the local paper. A few catch phrases and some unfiltered facts were all they needed to construct a tower of biased opinions held upright by the will to assert their intellectual dominance. A correction by an actual expert in the field being discussed did not humble the blowhards into silence. They would simply bend the discussion away from the damaging point or question the breadth and authenticity of the expert’s knowledge.
The sad thing is that TBD sufferers rarely know that they have a disease. They remain blissfully unaware that they have cleared out a room or drained all the joyful energy from a gathering. They even follow after their victims as they flee out the door. They want to give the desperate escapees a few thoughts to take with them.
I too suffer from this disease, but have become aware of my condition. I use simple words, repeat myself, and suck the air out of a room when my need to dominate a social gathering takes over. I can hear myself rattling on, interrupting others, saying the same damn thing over and over with slight variations in the hope that the latest iteration will capture the fine distinction in meaning that hovers in my mind. I suffer from the delusion that its elusive elegance must be communicated at all costs.
But I am in recovery. I will never truly kick my teachers’ disease habit, but hope to learn how to live a productive life that will do less harm to myself and others. Teacher’s Blathering Anonymous tells us that we are powerless over our addiction and must surrender our thoughts and speech to a higher power. Now, with God’s help, I am able to fight the urge to babble and can wait patiently while someone else speaks. Now I can use three syllable words and give my audience time to figure out their significance for themselves. Now I can go days at a time without hunting down victims and forcing them to listen to me rave on about how I would solve the crisis in Syria or broaden the economic base of Central Florida. And I can spend time alone and simply keep my mouth shut.
The temptations are still there, of course, and I still suffer occasional relapses. But the improvement has been real and the rewards great. My children visit me again. My wife no longer talks about taking separate vacations. The neighbors no longer cringe and flee when I happen to meet them at the mailbox.
And I am able to finish an essay without summing up and restating points I have already adequately explained.