A conversation is a social interaction that depends on listening to what someone says to you, acknowledging that you've heard them, and responding appropriately. In colonial days, before there was professional entertainment wired into your home and accessible at the push of a button, people had to provide their own entertainment. Wealthy young women learned the pianoforte and sang. Dinner parties depended on guests who were amusing and witty raconteurs. People sometimes even retired from the dinner table to engage in "parlor" (from the French word "to speak") games.
Recently a teacher friend put up an intriguing photo of human skin matched to Pantone swatches. She tried to start a conversion about the evolution of human skin color as serving different biological purposes, to no avail. The kids got themselves trapped in making silly remarks.
I've noticed many children don't make eye contact with me in one-on-one conversations. I have to request that they look at me when we're talking. My teenage granddaughter spent a lot of time on her phone texting her girl friends. When I was her age I spent, literally, hours talking with my girls friends on the phone. When I asked her why she communicated by text, "It's easier," was her terse reply. Yes, interacting with a complicated organism, another human being, is an important skill set that starts the moment you're born with smell and touch and eye contact among the most important interactions for a newborn and a parent. Children in orphanages who don't do these things as infants exhibit a "failure to bond" with others as adults.
Technology is teaching us new skills on how to be alone. Last Sunday's NY Times had an article about a man who spent the day with his cat avatar named Sox. It made him feel less lonely. There isa new game out to revive the art of conversation. When I watch news commentary shows with pundits, it's not just the content that interests me, it's the way they interact. They take turns and apologize when they "step on" or interrupt another speaker. The moderator develops skillful segues between speakers. They often cite one another when making a point. No one tries to dominate the discourse. I get very uncomfortable when two opposing commentators scream "talking points" over each other and I turn the show off. I just looked up talk show training on Google and there are more sites than I could count, most of them oriented on how to be a star talk show host. Good talker have the same problem as good writers:
- You have to have something to say. Content counts
- You need to know whom you're talking to. Is this person going to be interested in you?
- You need to speak so the other person "gets" it. You can tell if that happens by listening carefully to the response.
- You must make your response acknowledge what the other person has contributed. This may be in the form of asking a question and waiting for an answer.
- The exchange can be measured by the extent of the back-and-forth. Poor conversations just dwindle away and are forgotten quickly.
Does this post make you want to talk to me? If so, please comment.