Will Hearn
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True Dialogue, part II

In my last post on dialogue, I left a few questions open for discussion and further review:

There’s much more to the matter: what else do we desire from conversation? Why are we often afraid of it? Why do we feel high after meaningful conversation?”

I wrote a short letter to a friend this morning, describing some of my current situation in regards to conversation. And while I won’t copy and paste the letter, there’s an excerpt that deserves attention:

There are only a few things I feel are missing from my life, and one of them is something I had then that I wish I did now.

It’s the writing group, the conversations, the fellowship.. the social aspects of college. Not the partying, I can still have that if I wish, but the intelligent interactions. Anywhere I looked there was someone pursuing something and, usually, a mind churning something important behind the eyes I saw.

Whether it was in the library over tea and journals or glasses of beer and hand gestures, the dialogue and discussion I had at (Mississippi) State is something I miss terribly.

I’m incorrigible on the matter.
What is it then that we desire from conversation or more aptly put, why do we desire deep, meaningful conversations? 

Conversation is the exploration of philosophy. A person can accumulate knowledge and understanding of matters but they are no more real than an idea in your head until explored with another person.

The purpose and rewards of it are great. When two people talk with intention, there is more of a catalyst for deeper understanding. We (can) allow each other the expression of deeply rooted things. One can hold the space for another as the great untangling and working-through of an idea or feeling occurs. No one man is genius enough to do it all himself.

Nigel Warburton has a great article here on the matter. Not only are those isolated geniuses creating fictional characters so that they might have the dynamic I mentioned above, but the greatest philosophers of our time have undoubtedly burdened many others with their convictions and confusions.

Mr. Warburton quotes quite a few philosophers in his article and one of my favorites is as follows:

 .. in On Liberty, “both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there is no enemy in the field.”
Meaning that we cannot harbor knowledge and understanding to the point of giving a soliloquy or tuning out the speaker because we’ve “heard enough”. If conversation has lost it’s provocation, speak up damn you, and provoke it yourself. Demand the attention and feedback from another. Demand their opinion.
To come back to the question, I don’t believe that we necessarily desire deep, meaningful conversation. I do realize that we all have something, almost constantly, that we do not fully understand, sitting on the cusp between comprehension and confusion. It’s by questioning and exploring our ideas with another, a sort of space holder, that we give the final shove off the shelf into the well of cohesiveness.
This is as important of a evolutionary capability as any other paleolithic methodology of rediscovering our ancestral roots. Since language was born we’ve been discussing matters so that we might understand them more deeply. Whether it’s with ourselves, an imaginary friend, a sibling, our first school pal, professors or lovers, the exploration of those things that have waited in line for their turn is not only just, but an evolutionary priority.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it was one day linked to longevity. How could we think that those concepts, becoming old and stale, would not fester a stagnation within us mentally and emotionally as well as physiologically?

In fact, Ursula K. Le Guin put it:

Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.

Yet, there are times when people shy away from a conversation. When someone sits quietly at the table with all of the others who are engrossed in a discussion, one wonders why? Usually it’s not because the person doesn’t want to be involved. It’s because they’re afraid.

Afraid they have nothing important to say, or something incredibly important to say, or that they’ll say it wrong and be misunderstood. Fear reaches deeply within us and chokes our voice. Naturally, these are the people who become good listeners. The desire to do well is there, but the fear gags them and so they begin doing well with their ears.

Conversation is a saving grace. It allows those afraid to talk and those afraid to stop talking to meet and see the other side of their strength. It takes a yin and throws it hard enough at a yang for them to connect. A man choked by his fear of being misunderstood listens to the woman who is afraid she has nothing to say. The man learns that misunderstanding comes from the speaker not understanding that which she says and thus he begins speaking about the things he somewhat understands, slowly at first, and eventually with gusto. The woman learns that she has very much to say afterall, and if she would speak more concisely she could say much more indeed.

After countless cups of tea or a bottle of wine, the two rise from their table, the night having gone long and become late. They are both rosy in the cheeks, eyes sparkling and hearts lifted. It’s never been said, not once, but they have come to understand themselves deeply. They feel the difference of being heard, of verbal exploration and mental boundary breaking. Saying goodnight is hard, because you feel like you’ve made a new best friend. And while that feeling will sometimes fade, the departure from the cusp into the well is permanent.

That’s why we feel high.

Discussion isn’t just talking, it’s learning how to live rightly.

 

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