7. Meaningful Conversations

It is very normal for individuals to communicate with one another. Verbal conversation is one means of doing this very necessary activity. There are all sorts of forms of conversation and they all have a normal place in our lives. These interactive, spontaneous communications with one another, take various forms.

Sometimes we just greet one another and briefly asked them how they are doing or one might make a meaningless comment about the weather. Doing this is simply a form of polite socialization. This is a type of small talk where the topic is less important than the social purpose of achieving a bond between individuals. Banter is another form of conversation which from time to time I must admit that I enjoy. It amounts to a short verbal war of wit, no harm intended, between two individuals or more that enjoy this sort of wisecracking, perhaps a witty insult being included. I have found out, sometimes the hard way, that I must be careful who I choose to banter with. I must be careful that this short verbal warfare does not lead to misunderstandings.
When speaking of what I consider as meaningful conversation I speak of that as conversation containing substance, not simply jabber or banter. Perhaps the best way for me to explain what meaningful conversation is is to use the metaphor of a river. A river has many bends and turns in it as it flows sometimes fiercely through a stretch of rapids and at other times is very still as it reaches ponds, lakes as it flows along. Meaningful conversations act in much of the same way. Opinions and ideas based upon substances put forth can be very exciting and interesting. At other times stillness is required as one listens to the opinions as well as thoughts or opinions of others much like the stillness of a river. Whatever the speed of the flow of the river is it does flow on as a productive exchange of ideas also does within a meaningful conversation.

When participating in meaningful conversations it is important that no participant attempts to dominate or to take part in what is referred to as conversational narcissism.This form of conversation tends to steer the conversation away from others and toward themselves. This does not mean that an individual within the group cannot be dominant, however such an individual should not do so to perpetuate his or her own ego or lecture.

In the modern world of technical communication I have found, as have others, that through the use of technologies such as Twitter, Facebook and other forms present on the Internet individuals connect with one another however by doing so they do not have meaningful conversations that often. Conversations have been sacrificed being replaced with mere connections. Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and professor at M.I.T. and the author of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other” writes that by doing this we are short-changing ourselves as well as others.

I myself find that I have a need for meaningful conversations, however, finding individuals to do this I have found too often difficult. For me a meaningful conversation is a form of communication where two or more individuals civilly are able to exchange information and ideas equally. This form of communication is purposeful for one not only can enjoy it’s input of ideas as well as information but as well open up one’s mind to fresh concepts or just improve on concepts that perhaps one has been dwelling on. To me a meaningful conversation is a gym for the mind. If you want to build your body up it may help to work out at a gym. If you want to stay sharp mentally there is no better way then to engage in a meaningful conversation.

I now at the age of 84. I’m living in an apartment complex where the average age is 77. I will go into our apartment lobby finding a number of individuals sitting there speaking to one another. Most of the time what is going on is a form of jabber or babble which is a pleasant form of socialization which I guess serves a need for some. I may bring up a subject only to hear an individual response to me telling me that they do not discuss sex, politics or religion. What they are really saying is that they find it uncomfortable to discuss any topic which may be controversial. I can understand that it is a natural thing for human beings to surround himself with other humans that agree with them mostly. By doing so, I believe many enter into a conversation in a comfort zone with a point of view that they feel safe with leaving with the same point of view nothing added. This type of communication to me is a waste of time. Other times an individual may become angry simply that a topic is brought up. When this happens, I will not argue with such an individual, but removed myself from the area. It makes no sense to me to waste time speaking with individuals who have closed their minds up who are lacking in inquisitiveness. Do not misinterpret what is written here in thinking that I believe that these individuals are bad people for they in most cases are not. It is just that speaking with them other than being sociable and showing good etiquette is not interesting, fun or productive.
I write here about conversations with older individuals, however, I have found that young people in this technological world, although many are interested in information they lack in verbal communication skills. When I retired and became a sub-teacher it became quite obvious to me that my students were able to socialize verbally quite well however were not able to indulge in meaningful conversations. I would ask them if they had meaningful conversations with their parents or whoever the adults were that they lived with. They replied to me that most times they did not and did not see the importance of having such conversations. They did not even know how to enter into such a conversation with their mother, father, or that their mother or father would be interested in doing so. I gave them a task or challenge telling them when sitting with an adult to simply make a simple statement such as: dad what do you think about the sun and that it may burn out of fuel one day? At that point I told them the important thing is not to say another word until the adult that you are speaking with speaks. Some in the classroom thought this would be a fun experiment and did make the attempt at it. They told me that they were very surprised that they really had a meaningful conversation with their father or mother. One young man smiled as he told me that when he popped such a question to his father and waited for an answer that his father said to his surprise let me think about that. At the dinner table the next evening they had a meaningful conversation. The father had at last found a means to relate to his son. This led to a much better relationship between them. To the surprise of some of my students they found out that the adult that they were having a hard time communicating with also did not know how to communicate with them and that when they were able to open up a door allowing communications of some depth to take place that relationships got better pleasing all parties involved.

Yes, we now have wonderful means of connecting with one another, yet because of the lack of meaningful conversations we as individuals are pulling away from each other. This I believe is because of the overuse by young and old of the internet services such as Facebook and Twitter where one is able to communicate with another writing short statement without being able to look the other party in his or her eyes. We now too often live in a world with less empathy towards each other, leading to the many problems we as individuals and as a nation we now face.

Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; argument an
exchange of ignorance. Robert Quillen



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