Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wanted: Good Conversation

Alain De Botton laments the general inability of people to converse. is striking how bad most of us are at having a conversation, chiefly because we insist that knowing how to talk to other people is something we are born with, rather than an art dependent on the acquisition of a range of odd and artificially acquired skills.

I certainly wasn't born with it, and growing up as a nerdy kid in a small farming town didn't help.
College was better, but I still tend to listen quietly to what others say, only joining in if a topic of particular interest comes up.

Why do conversations go wrong? Shyness has a lot to answer for. We get scared of opening our souls because we falsely exaggerate the difference between ourselves and others.

So what can be done to help liberate us? We need to learn some manners......We need prescriptions and rules to get us to the natural and raw parts of our characters. Consider the record of the greatest conversation in the Western tradition, Plato's Symposium. The evening is as minutely choreographed as a piece of theatre.

We should be braver. An evening comes alive when we meet people who seem to express our very own thoughts, but with a clarity and psychological accuracy we could not match.

Blogging and the internet in general have been good for my conversational skills, just by enabling me to learn about a great variety of topics and giving me a forum in which to practice organizing and expressing my thoughts. My physical presence still leaves much to be desired; I tend to be shifty-eyed and fidgety.

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