When was the last time you had a good conversation?
I saw an interview today with Christopher Hitchens, one of the great of conversationalists of all time, and I thought how desperately I missed really good conversation. Not the exchange of pleasantries, or a duet of monologues that passes as conversation nowadays. I'm talking about a conversation in which two people are actively engaged in thought, not badgering each other with their opinions.
How I yearn for a good conversation. I would fly anyplace in the U.S. merely to have one--scintillating dialog that makes me giggle with delight and sigh with sadness. I long for it as deeply as a mystic longs for God. With all due respect to Hitchens, perhaps it is the same thing.
The wonderful Scottish poet John O'Donohue describes good conversation: good conversation causes you to overhear yourself saying something you never knew you knew; it resonates in you, finding a place in you that you thought you had lost; it transports the two of you to a different plane; and it sings in your mind for weeks afterward.
Good conversation awakens something in you, makes your stomach flutter with excitement. You surprise yourself. Together two spark original thought, original language, as if two flints hitting one another.
Why has the art of conversation disappeared? It requires time, of course, unstructured time, where you can while away the hours with no thought to accomplishing anything. It requires intense respect for the other person's thought. People are so opinionated nowadays, so unwilling to entertain doubt, to see from another's point of view, so quick to form an opinion, as if to do otherwise is some kind of betrayal, as if you had to toe the party line. Does it come from the American insistence on unity? Our democracy is founded on the idea that discourse and the conflict of ideas is good for society, yet we have so little tolerance for other people opinions. Why do we think there is no validity in conflict? Why do we lose our tempers? Why can I not ride the current of your thought, enjoy its rhythm and texture, and then contradict its logic without hurting your feelings?
The next time someone says to me, "I think so and so," I will stop them, and say, "What makes you so sure?" I find myself doubting even the most obvious truths. Violence is bad. Tolerance is good. Prejudice is bad. What makes you so sure? Wouldn't you like to talk about it?