I’m sure we’ve all been there…on a date or out with girlfriends who are tied to their iphone or blackberry. Has the art of conversation died?
Some interesting excerpts form an article that address the art of conversation:
What makes a good conversationalist has changed little over the years. The basics remain the same as when Cicero became the first scholar to write down some rules, which were summarised in 2006 by The Economist: “Speak clearly; speak easily but not too much, especially when others want their turn; do not interrupt; be courteous; deal seriously with serious matters and gracefully with lighter ones; never criticise people behind their backs; stick to subjects of general interest; do not talk about yourself; and, above all, never lose your temper.” But Cicero was lucky: he never went on a first date with someone more interested in their iPhone than his company.
Six ways to have a better conversation: 1. Be curious about others; 2. Take off your mask; 3. Empathise with others; 4. Get behind the job title; 5. Use adventurous openings; 6. Have courage.
In our groups we were asked to come up with ideas for unusual openings. A man in his early twenties who joked that he had thought of this before, as a chat-up line, suggested: “Tell me something I want to know.” A more challenging opener came from another group member: “If you were coming to the end of your life, what would you have wanted to have done that you hadn’t?” Someone in a different group had the most popular suggestion: explaining how you felt about something and asking your companion what they thought.
But I suspect my classmates were after that most basic thing, human connection. Whatever it was – technology, break-up, bereavement – that made them attend, all wanted stronger relationships. They just weren’t sure how. It would be sad if we needed to dress that up in an intellectual costume. Sad and unhelpful. Nowhere in Cicero’s rules does it say good conversation requires a mastery of literature.
Indeed, conversation needn’t be anything. It needn’t have a purpose. The very act of talking and listening and learning is what my classmates sought. It’s what Ian McEwan said Hitchens wanted in his final days. And that desire is as pure and right as any Coleridge poem.