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An interesting book crossed my desk recently, “Conversation: A History of a Declining Art” by Stephen Miller, Yale University Press.
We don’t think about the etiquette of conversation these days. More often than not we are too busy to have a good conversation. Communication between family members is apt to be concrete and cursory: “Please pick up Susie’s prescription on your way home from work.” “I’ll be late as I have a four o’clock meeting.”
Communication between friends and acquaintances tends to be pretty bland. Miller wonders whether this is related to the polarized state of our nation. People play it safe by talking about the weather and the new restaurant that just opened.
But there really is an etiquette to the art of conversation. Both parties listen attentively. Neither party is ingratiating. Nobody makes a speech. Nobody tries to be overly witty. Nobody gets angry. They converse.
A good conversation is not a lecture, sermon, performance, challenge, confession, or a display of learning. It is a sort of intellectual exercise between two or more people with “…no determined course…” It is “an unrehearsed intellectual adventure.”
Conversation has purpose: it connects people. We are becoming a disconnected nation. Even within families we are disconnected from each other. We spend more time in front of a screen as I am doing now than talking with or looking at each other.
Connections are so important that I think parents should make an effort to converse with each other which models conversational behavior for their children. And when the kids are old enough involve them in conversation.
Gradually teach them the etiquette of conversation and get across the fact that conversation is ENJOYABLE and it connects us and connections are what makes us HUMAN.
With children, especially young ones, you will need some ideas about topics that are age appropriate and you will also need to remind them about the rules. But get yourselves and your kids conversing. What they learn from you at home will stand them in good stead when they are with friends, away at college, and even picking a mate. Who would want to spend a lifetime with someone who doesn’t know how or doesn’t care to converse. How dull!
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