Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Artful Conversation

One of our favorite activities of the day is sitting around a table over dinner with friends. We talk about random ideas, personal histories, cultural differences, relationships, current events and life in general. Although cooking almost everyday for four people, plus a couple more on occasion, can sometimes be a hassle, I look forward to dinnertime. Conversation, although I'm a little introverted, is important to me.

It has always been vital--so much that while I suffered from painful shyness in fifth grade, I read a book recommended to me by my favorite Librarian at school about how to start and hold conversations. I don't remember the title of the book, but its principles have guided me ever since. The first chapter dealt mostly with proper grammar and ettiquete such as introductions. The subsequent chapters were helpful hints in how to initiate, broach a subject and keep a dialogue going, as well as dangers to avoid like monopolizing everyone's attention. A good conversationalist gives as well as takes, listens well and asks thoughtful questions. Everyone, no matter what their comfort level in socializing, can learn a few basic skills. I think the book had no more than 50 pages, it was one of the precious Scholastic books that I bought for just pennies but it gave me hope. I wore it out.

While at the public library last week, I ran across The Art of Conversation, A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure by Catherine Blyth. Although I am not as shy as I used to be, I decided that it couldn't hurt to brush up a little. Society has changed since I perused that little helpful tome in fifth grade, so I could stand to learn something new.

Blyth's assessment of 21st century culture is that we are neglecting ourselves by neglecting good conversation by our technological dependence on computers, online social networks, cell phones and text messaging. All of that is fine, but it doesn't take the place of our human need to sit down and talk to a person eye to eye. "The irony of this communication age is that we communicate less meaningfully" page 8 of the Introduction. We are starving ourselves of real communication.

This is an opportunity for believers, I think, to meet needs of an increasingly isolated generation who don't know how to initiate a conversation and keep it going. The more skilled we are at communicating, the deeper the impact we may have for glorifying God in sharing His good news for everyone. It is hospitality that goes with us everywhere, in and out of our homes, to extend our attention and get to know someone else, hear their story as they articulate thoughts they didn't know they had until we asked them. Conversations can change lives. And it beats eating dinner in front of a television.

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