A successful conversation requires two minds that are similar in strength. A conversation is an exchange of words derived from your experience and your feelings, ideals, aims, hopes, etc. Both minds must have some sound knowledge of the outside world and a grasp of some of its major events. Both speakers should also be talented listeners which implies extensive contacts with different and varying personalities, a wide range of circumstances, and both people speaking must possess a knowledge of the events of their life that they can recount truthfully. Every human being is a vessel of unique experiences of life.
So a conversation thus has to be based on the truth of facts and the truth of personal perceptions. Both listener and speaker should have a sincere desire to share what they’ve learned. You should never talk as if your virtues are a matter of personal accomplishment, The spaciousness and the range and amplitude of each mind will make itself seen in dialogue so there is no need to rush for results. It is natural for people to take each other’s measure, but one should hold back and simply perceive. Each should gauge the other in silence by listening. Half of the pleasure of conversation is sharing insightful perceptions that are accurate to the observed facts. The knowledge of each doesn’t have to be identical, but the replies of each have to form some kind of coherence. The alternative is a dreary exchange of half-thought, half-understood gibberish or merely repeating stale clichés and superficial commonplaces that rule the day and manifest no new knowledge.
Any dialogue has elements of rivalry and competition but these should be kept far back and not be allowed to dominate the discussion. It helps if both sincerely respect the merits they discover in each other as they talk. This can provide the basis for a friendship.
When I say that both minds have to have similar strengths I mean that both have to have some power of expressing themselves intelligently and in a way that simulates the listener, which requires him to be clear, lucid and articulate in return. Any person who expects to be listened to must have an adequate supply of words to use, and those words have to be used with some skill. The speaker’s thought has to manifest proportion, a grasp of the vital over the subordinate, and a sense of sequence and transition. Both sides of a conversation should have a sincere admiration for their own knowledge, and a growing appreciation of what the other is telling and experienced, and both must possess a genuine desire to convey the merits of their knowledge and perceptions to each other.
Both sides must have some solid frame of reference the lurks behind their words. Both don’t really have to know the history of the Hittites, Greek democracy, Roman power and administration, the Dark Ages, the economic foundations of power, the history of the Earth etc., in order to converse. A good conversationalist has usually read enough to obtain of grasp of how things had happened in those extinct cultures and viable idea of how thing s happen in our own. But it fortifies a conversation if he has made himself learn who the key personalities were, their defects, their missteps, their triumphs and successes, the factors that caused their eventually downfall.
For example, if someone who talks of Egyptian history, they should possess illustrations, examples, anecdotes, myths, legends, etc and vividly telling these to a stranger hopefully will act to stir new strains of reflections. Stories and illustrations of Egyptian history, its beginning as eight city states ruled by eight kings, its expansion and wars will provoke a response in someone who knows the history of the American Civil War because in every war there are irreducible elements that can be viewed by each and elaborated. Every history of a nation and its culture is full of contests with other histories, and there will be points where they collide or reinforce or refute each other in the course of a conversation. The discoveries of even faint similarity inflame and exhilarate any conversation. If both listener and speaker can reason with deft skill, the differences in their talk won’t matter too much. They will grope and find common ground, finally find it and the knowledge of each helps and strengthens the understanding of the personality of the other. But the bond must be founded on an adequate supply of words and their use must be clear, lucid, penetrating.
An inability to articulate your views or speaking with a sense of infallibility will murder any conversation almost at the outset.
But a successful conversation requires that people listen to each other with deliberate care. This takes patience, self sacrifice and discipline, and it requires memory. A talker has to absorb before they can speak. Above all things, you don’t sit and listen only for the sake of saying something superior in merit to what has just been said. Try to follow rather than lead.
Beware of opinion. The first thing that comes to mind is very likely to be second or third rate or worse, and it is usually something everybody is saying at the moment. Take time to reflect, choose, select, discern and discriminate. Ideally you have an opinion based on accurate facts that you have taken time to think about, considered and analyzed, and cared enough about to have read the studies of others who have more knowledge than you do. Be very slow to manifest skepticism of another’s knowledge. You probably don’t have grounds to be skeptical. Try and listen to what the speaker is trying to delineate. If it puzzles you, ask him to say it gain, ask for further explanations. Avoid making conclusions based on faulty or insufficient information. The idea is to learn things, not boastfully showcase what you already know. There is no progress to be had in that.
I said recently that newspaper readers are often not good conversationalists, mainly because they are so addicted to reading in brief snap shots, in easily digested short bits. Because of this, all of us learn a bit of the same thing from the same sources, what is likely to be the result? Often we cannot give an account of what we have learned because newspapers overwhelm us with voluminous details, leaving us with neither the will nor the intelligence to try and discern what these cumulative details mean. It is unfortunate that today, any narrative that isn’t brief makes our attention wander. I have a friend who simply cannot give his attention to anything. He is astounding superificial, always restless fidgety, but people him are in the majority today. We as a people are not to be interested in depth of any kind. We are not interested in another’s thoughts if they are not topical. This is a sorry state of affairs.