The online Oxford dictionary defines conversation as, ‘A talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged’. That’s pretty broad. The use of the word ‘informal’ ensures its wide catchment, but I’ve been wondering if we really engage in conversation anymore. In this fabulous Melbourne cafe culture, I see people everywhere chatting with their partners, parents, children and friends. But what are they talking about. I find it fascinating.
It’s the second day of the new year. I’m trying to write more, and put myself out there – wherever ‘there’ is. It’s not a resolution, as such. I recently wrote about my only resolution this year is choosing kindness. But I need to write every day, otherwise the deep-seated laziness and total lack of ambition will take over, and there I will be, sitting on my couch stuffing salt & vinegar chips in my mouth while bingeing on Netflix. So back to the second of January. I have decided to give writing prompts a try. I don’t know anything about pingbacks, but I know that I can work it out. Eventually. In the meantime I’ll just write.
Now, back to conversations, today’s prompt. I wonder if we’ve lost the art of participating in a conversation. We have opinions, certainly. Just look at any social media site, and you’ll find keyboard warriors exerting their opinions, sometimes with vitriol, other times with respect.
I think about my children. A lot of our conversations are yelling matches. I don’t know if I’m teaching them to be conversationalists. We sit at the dinner table together and Hubster and I ask open-ended questions about their days at school, but most often all we hear is nonsensical, silly answers. In the end we give up, because one child tries to outdo with another, and it all gets too much.
But what about times with friends. Surely, I can still engage in conversation with my friends. Well, yes. I guess so. A lot of the time it can be superficial, I suppose. I’m sure I’m not alone here. We are all rushed for time. My school mum friends and I are often in a hurry to take our children from one after-school activity to another, so any conversations we have are quick, and in the minutes prior to the kids running out of the classroom. My bestie lives on the other side of Melbourne, so when I see her, we gabble to fill in the details of our lives over the last few months. It’s more about a catch-up, rather than an old-fashioned, decent conversation.
And Hubster…surely we talk, we converse? Yes, I suppose we do, but often we’re so tired, so shitty and drained from dealing with the kids, especially right now during the summer hols, that we flop onto the couch after their bedtime and watch TV until it’s time for bed.
I look back to the so-called halcyon days of conversation. But I wonder, were they really that great? Fifty or sixty years ago, there were many taboo topics: religion, politics, relationships, just to name a few. The strict social norms forbade people from delving too deeply into other people’s lives. I squeeze my eyes shut and try to imagine what they talked about. I wonder if school mums gathered for coffee after drop-off to bitch and moan about their husbands. And when their husbands came home from work, I try to visualise the couple sitting together over a scotch on the rocks while he went over the intricacies of his work life. I’m struggling to see it, I have to admit.
I am not sure if we’ve lost the art of conversation, or if we’re developing a new form of it. I like that post-structuralism has broken down the social norms. I like that we can enter into a conversation about different religions. I love being able to off-load the insignificant squabbles I have with Hubster to my mates. I love that they laugh, knowing that I, like them when they have their turn, am only letting off steam. I am relieved to know that if there comes a day when I am not simply letting off steam, and I need someone to listen and advise, that friends are there with open ears. I like that I can share my regret with friends over my tenure with organised religion, some twenty years ago, and not fear any repercussions from society.
Like all aspects of life, the conversation has changed. It flows to reflect the changes we’ve made in our daily lives and within our culture and society in general. And, although I have a healthy dislike for the contempt that we so often see in social media comments, I love that we are freer and more able to share our whole self in a conversation.
What do you think about the art of conversation? I’d love to hear from you.