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30 January 2014


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William R. Cumming

Richard I hereby award you the honor of Public Intellectual. This post is a wonder. Could you explain with some brevity why you decided to reward readers of this blog with this post?

I read too much to exactly remember when or where I read something. But I believe it was the forth volume of Robert Caro's epic biographical work on LBJ! It is also a take on JFK! In it is revealed by someone who may have known both Stalin and JFK! Perhaps George Kennan. That person concludes that in a long life the two best listeners he had met were JFK and Stalin.


Thanks for this portrait. I recently read a quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt: "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people"if I am quoting correctly. I think a good conversationalist needs to command and range over all three and weigh each as appropriate.


Thank you Mr. Sale,

Some serious introspection at this end as a result.

Babak Makkinejad


You may wish to read the short pamphlet, "On Dialogue", by David Bohm.


nick b

Mr. Sale,

I truly enjoyed your essay. I too was quite curious as to what prompted it. I agree with the great majority of what you say, and strongly agree with this particular gem of wisdom: "It helps if both sincerely respect the merits they discover in each other as they talk. This can provide the basis for a friendship." I think mutual respect is one of the core requirements of a good conversation.

If I may be allowed to expand a little on what you have said. I agree that good conversation is an art, but in many ways it is also a skill, and must be practiced. Much of our interaction with other individuals falls outside what I would call conversation. More often than not, interactions between people resemble correspondence and debate, in that there is only action and reaction to what is said. The interaction being a delivery of information, orders or directions to be accepted and not discussed, or those debate-like interactions which are strictly a competition of ideas, and occasionally, verbal wit. To find actual conversation, as you have described it above, one must have and take the time to do so. Sometimes, you get lucky, and that time is created for you.

Recently, the conversations I have most enjoyed were with people who were stuck in the same place I was for a period of time, a regularly scheduled period: my son's football practice. All the parents who take their kids to practice sit around for 2.5 hours on benches in the dark while the kids play ball. It's a random slice of people who probably would not have normally come in contact over the course of our lives, but because we all had reason to be in the same place at the same time we all talked. There was really nothing else to do. Over time and repetition tremendous conversations arose, and friendships were born. When football season ended, more than one parent remarked to me about the hole left in their lives from the end of our conversation time. Without the regiment of a scheduled time to converse, most of us slipped back into the business of our lives. The idea of setting aside a two hour block of time just to converse is a luxury indeed.

I think we need to be open to good conversation where and when it can be found. An inquisitive spirit, or a belief that something about everyone is interesting, always helps (You see this vividly in conversations with children).
That is why I the only thing I disagree with in the essay is its conclusion. People are able to converse wonderfully and meaningfully, if they have the time, are treated with respect and they feel interesting to the person to whom they are speaking. I don't lament the end of good conversation, just the lack of proper time to practice and enjoy.


Beware of opinion, indeed! It is something that I try very hard to keep in mind, but not something I'm always successful at...and something that positively confounds people I run into, as we live in an era that extols opinions over the truth and facts...and sometimes, even have trouble telling them apart.

The Twisted Genius

Richard Sale,

This is an excellent dissertation on the art of conversation. Thank you. Your point that effective listening takes patience, self sacrifice and discipline is something I recognize well. I think all facets of a life worth living require these attributes. At least that's what growing up in a small New England town founded by Separatist Puritans taught me.



In re Israel, I think the hooks are in too deep with the sheeple of the US for the spell to be broken. As the familiars of the tribe like to say. "there is a consensus in Washington about Israel." I recently heard a commentator on 24/7 news refer to the attacks on USS Liberty as a "friendly fire incident."

"patience, self sacrifice and discipline" I'll buy that, but to the list should be added; intolerance, narrow mindedness, self-righteousness, and a general unwillingness to leave other people alone to be themselves in peace. I am descended from the founding stock of New England and these characteristics have not died out in my family. pl

The Twisted Genius


I agree on both points. As for the Puritans, we first read Cotton Mather in our 6th grade American literature textbook. My classmates and I quickly recognized that he was a jerk, even at that tender age. I don't see anything good coming from a belief in predestination and being among the chosen.

Gideon Hotchkiss was the first deacon of the Puritan parish established in what would eventually become my hometown. He threatened to disown one of his sons when he dared to establish a Methodist meeting house. Gideon never made good on that threat and remained on good terms with his "wayward" son. Perhaps his service in the French and Indian War and our War for Independence tempered his Puritan intolerance. Jedidiah Hotchkiss was a direct decedent of Gideon.

nick b


A nutmegger, eh?

William R. Cumming

Edith Wharton [American author 1862-1937]when asked why she lived mainly in Europe stated that she was searching for "good conversation"! Her stories were all about Americans and she was the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize and that in 1921 for her "Age of Innocence"!

The Twisted Genius

nick b,

Yes I am. The house I grew up in is a former glebe house for the Congregational church on the other side of the town green. One of the trees I often climbed is a scion of the Charter Oak. Now I am in the process of becoming a proper Virginian. As the motto goes, "Qui Transtulit Sustinet."

nick b


While not a native, I grew up there, but along Rt 7, not Rt 8. My great grandfather, after leaving Italy around the turn of the last century, wound up starting a tool and die works in the Brass City. I cut my teeth in politics in the Park City. I left 20 years ago vowing not to return. Where I live in the Keystone state now reminds me much of how my old home town used to be.

The Twisted Genius

nick b,

That's some beautiful country along Route 7. I did a lot of hiking and camping around Cornwall Bridge. My father was also a tool and die maker. He apprenticed at Scovill after serving in the Marines. Then went to work at Pratt & Whitney. Retired as a master mechanic, Pratt & Whitney's highest accolade for a tool maker. He moved to Fryeburg, Maine probably for the same reasons you left.

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