Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Art of Conversation

Paul states, “There are many voices in the world, and perhaps none of them without significance.” I suppose Paul was more blessed than I, certainly more gracious, for methinks I have heard many an insignificant voice. Or maybe Paul means that even a fool’s voice, characterized by a multitude of words, is yet significant because of the weighty judgment that will sever and silence the fool’s tongue for all eternity. To Paul’s credit, he did say “perhaps.” Of course, in context, despite Paul’s usage of phone instead of glosso, he refers to intelligible languages, viz, no language is insignificant. However, the point here is, no matter what language they speak, whether or not most people have anything meaningful to say. At the risk of being called a cynic, I think the answer is “no.”

I do not know who said it first, but I have quoted that person often, “People can talk only about three things: persons, events, or ideas.” The vast majority of conversations involve the first two categories, persons and events, and I can take only three or four minutes of such narrative before I develop a mysterious deafness.

I have also known people who can talk about great ideas without an appreciation of discourse. One former colleague of mine, quite brilliant, could talk impressively about profound ideas – philosophy, literature, science, and music – ad nauseum. I always think of that person when I say, “Great teachers are dialogues, not monologues.” Socrates and Jesus Christ are our examples and mentors here. They both understood, like flint and steel, that discourse sparks the fire of imagination and ignites the light of learning. Socrates and Jesus always drove their conversations heavenward to the atmosphere of transcendent truth, elevating their disciples’ consciousness to a contemplative realm. In every conversational setting, one should always try to follow their examples, drive the conversation heavenward, out of the boring dimensions of people and events and ever upward towards ethereal matters. If tedious guests stay too long or too late, just shock the social atmosphere with depthful conversation and you shall soon bid them a happy adieu.

Only readers of great books can be good conversationalists and not the majority of them unless they practice discourse. Conversation is an art, the brush and canvas of which are eloquent speaking and intense listening; great books, and the ideas within them, provide the color and form by which the ear and tongue may paint. Better to be in thoughtful discourse with a well-read atheist than a superficial theist. One would have little to learn from the tepid theist, and much to profit from the informed infidel, perhaps even an opportunity to engage the thoughtful unbeliever in a meaningful conversation about things that matter.

The writer of Hebrews encourages us to “have compassionate on the ignorant" but, alas, how difficult to love one’s neighbor if he is uninteresting. One might say that such an opinion is bitter or arrogant, but the real bitterness, the real arrogance, belongs to those whose tongues are no longer voluntary organs, who say everything that comes to their minds without refinement of the rhetorical quality or intellectual validity of what they have to say, and without respect to the eardrums of their victims. To paraphrase Solomon, “Even a fool is thought to be wise when he keeps his mouth shut.”


Shane said...

Good post, hb. I'm reminded of an experience I had this past November. Sitting in a local coffee shop one Saturday morning, I had a two minute conversation with a man next to me. He was a Methodist minister, locked in on his facebook page. A while later I had a lengthier conversation with an atheist in the cafe who was reading Kierkegaard and Camus. I much preferred the latter conversation.

J. Matthew Brunson said...

I'm gonna have to disagree here,

I've met many people who don't have a high capacity for abstract thought or lofty ideas, but are still perfectly capable of "driving conversation heavenward" as HB puts it. Individuals who are beaming with integrity, kindness, and sincerity express these attributes through conversation, even if they're only talking about "people" or "events". I'd much rather listen to such people any day over some intellectually gifted snob. The soul of a kind-hearted manure transporter is, in my mind, more valuable than that of Richard Dawkins.

Hal Brunson said...

lol . . . point well taken, John . . .

Beau Morgan said...

It was said of Daniel, "an excellent spirit was in him." Excellent conversation, it seems, comes from excellent spirits. I think HB and Matt actually make similar points in that the pompous horses butt is never very engaging. The person too learned to learn from others is a walking monologue and therefore incapable of engaging conversation. I'd rather shoot the breeze with my Waste Management buddy as well.

Driving conversation heavenward takes balls, and too often I suffer from shrinkage. Jesus must have been amazing in social settings - he must certainly have divided the room.