A short time ago, my older daughter and I spoke of some of the words which have become very common in everyday speak. She used, as an example, one of her acquaintances who inserts the word “like” in front of every other word. I agreed that it was annoying, as are “actually”, “basically”, “totally”, etc. She quipped that she thought it was to give the girl’s brain time to catch up with her mouth. She hypothesizes that people use such words in conversation when they don’t know what else to say — as a pause, so to speak, while they think of their next line. Right or wrong, it led to a discussion about the art of conversation which we both agreed is lost to most people.
Small talk and chatter have taken the place of thoughtful discussion. With e-mail and text messages available to a huge percentage of the population, we’re used to, and expect, quick responses. In many homes, out of necessity, both parents work. The family supper hour has moved from a gathering around the dining room table to couches, bedrooms, and eating on the run. Families don’t talk like they used to; everyone is in a rush. People don’t listen to each other and conversations often come to us in short bursts or garbled chunks. We are distracted by cell phones and iPods. It’s not that people don’t care — we just don’t bother.
Imagine how people interacted a century ago. Without television, internet, or even electricity, when the sun dipped below the horizon, there was nothing to do to pass an evening BUT talk. With only the creak of a chair or the crackle of a fire breaking the silence, there must have been hours of wonderful, unbroken conversation about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. Mind you, I’m not necessarily hinting that I’d want to go back to that way of life, though sometimes I think my soul seeks it, but how invigorating it would be to have that sort of connection with people.
Conversation teaches us about people. It is how we learn others’ likes and dislikes, interests, who they are. It is an exchange of information. Good conversation must be two-sided — there must be a listener and a speaker. Often, we hear, but we’re not always listening. We argue, then tally our scars to see who comes out on top, but that’s not conversation. Discussion is thoughtful. You must share something of yourself and be challenged. You must interpret facial expressions and intonations of the voice. Face-to-face conversation forces you to show interest in others’ thoughts and words.
We need to take the time to converse with others before the art of conversation goes the way of letter writing and good penmanship. In hectic and stressed times, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I believe one could turn things around with little effort. Turn the cell phone off and enjoy a coffee with someone. Aim for just one night a week when your family will gather round a table for supper. Conversation is a gift that benefits everyone.
I think it’s, like, totally doable.
[photo © Jurek Durczak]