Daily Quote and Reflection: People in this world of superficial communication find themselves isolated and lonely and have difficult in talking about personal things that really matter to them. Theodore Zeldin
Definition of conversation: The spoken exchange and sharing of ideas, observations, thoughts, opinions, or feelings.
Reflection: In this quote Theodore Zeldin has hit on a topic I have been thinking about for a while. I belong to men’s conversation group, for a number of years, and often wondered about the lack of deep in our conversations. We discuss things like the power of global warming, history of consumer behavior, some issues of social justice and our world views. And yet after each session I wonder about the lack of meaning in these superficial conversations. The group guidelines prohibit discussion of politics and religion. We some times edge toward these topics. Once we discussed the impact of the recession and debt on people’s lives. The discussion got a little heated so our moderator guide us away from confronting other member’s particular point of view and just arguing our point of view. Consequences of his guidance was less sharing and discussion. So because of my discomfort with the lack of any meaningful and in depth conversations which require self-disclosure, sharing of personal feelings and vulnerability I started to research the art of conversation.
In my search, I came across the short but powerful book by Theodore Zeldin, entitled Conversation: How talk Can Change Our Lives. I was captivated by the title and yet have mixed feelings about the message and content. He focused more on why conversations have changed and are more superficial today than providing some wisdom on how to change and rekindle respect and deeper conversations. Over all this tiny little book delivers because it is thought provoking and challenging. This book will enable you to see more clearly what you want to talk about, and what conversation can do for your “quality of life”. Goodreads review and take on this book is that ” Conversation explains what kind of talk charmed and excited people in the past, and why we talk differently today. It explores the art and the history of conversation and how it can be the key to a happier, more interesting future”.
Check out his project “the muse” which grew out of this and “intimate history”, is on a mission to inspire more meaningful conversations between people of all walks of life. “The project called the Muse has organized Conversation Meals at which you are seated in pairs with someone you have never met, or know only very vaguely. You are each given a Menu of Conversation that looks like a restaurant menu, with starters, fish, grills, dessert etc, but instead of descriptions of food dishes, each heading contains topics to talk about, 25 in all.”
A Muse introduces the meal and explains how to proceed and the rules of what is more than a game. Each of you chooses a topic, and when you have finished discussing it, the other chooses a topic and so you go through the Menu. That normally takes two hours, though we have known it to last seven hours. A participant of the MUSE said the organization has been amazed by how quickly the conversations become animated, and how interesting and memorable the event becomes. You get to know a stranger very well, and find that you are learn a lot about yourself too, in discussing such topics as ambition, curiosity, fear, friendship, the relations of the sexes and different cultures or civilization.” One eminent participant said he would never again give a dinner party without this Muse Menu, because he hated superficial chat. Another said he had in just two hours made a friend who was closer than many he had known much longer. A third said he had never revealed so much about himself to anybody except his wife. Self-disclosure is the foundation on which mutual trust.
Self-Coaching Challenge: Over the next 24 hours have a meaningful conversation with a stranger or someone you want to get to know. Try to stay off topics that are superficial, such as the weather, sports, etc. Use the techniques of self-disclosure and truth sharing on a topic you both feel passionate about. Use your journal to capture your reflections on how the conversation went, how in depth your sharing was and how you felt about the conversation. If this exercise went well see if you could organize your next dinner meeting around the structure and rules the Muse organization recommends. Good Luck and keep us posted on your experiment with creating more meaningful conversations in your life.