“Conversation distinguishes the human being from the animal and the civilized man from the barbarian.”
– Michael Oakeshott
Nurturing our conversational lives has many benefits. It is the bridge that connects our individual selves with those of people around us. To find richness and meaning in our lives, we desire a feeling of belonging and shared community. Conversation enables us to recognize the humanity in others, and thereby in ourselves. It illuminates a sense of purpose larger than ourselves.
Conversation is an act of sharing of beliefs, opinions, memories, feelings and experiences by two or more people open enough to enter this arrangement willing to leave it slightly different or changed. Conversation may, occasionally, include elements of debate, negotiation, rhetoric or mediation, yet those features are not conversation itself. Think of it as a long “Hello.”
We may develop our conversational life by exploring the approaches through which we practice aspects of the art of conversation. Over the next week or two, try some of the following directions for yourself:
Curiosity: Ditch the formulaic inquiries. Jot down some adventurous questions and ask these of a new acquaintance.
Empathy: Endeavor to be aware of our assumptions. Look at and spend time observing people around you. Try to imagine (or daydream about) their lives and stories, and critically examine your narratives
Silence: “The range of human hearing far surpasses our ability to speak,” observes Gordon Hempton. When asked a question, respond “Let me think about that for a moment.” Pause. Think. Pause more. Then reply.
Courage: The ongoing activity of conversation facilitates our ability to sidle up incrementally, bit by bit, to challenging and difficult issues. It builds our capacity to be vulnerable. Reflect on your capacity for courage by writing down, privately for yourself, a list of difficult conversations that you have experienced. Consider what made them difficult. How might the conversation have been different?
Let me know how your explorations go.