The art of conversation


What ever happened to the art of conversation? Television is what happened. About forty years ago back in California, I distinctly recall being invited to my friend Lois’ home one evening for dinner and while she was doing the final preparations, I was seated at her kitchen table. In a different room, but directly in my line of vision was a large television screen on which there was a movie running with a raging fire blazing across the screen. Lois’ soft voice and remarks were completely lost as the television captivated me and I was lost as company.

My father once suggested that the one-eyed monster was the television, though he would never have been without one.

Watching television is not all bad – sometimes it is nice to just sit there and be entertained, sometimes there are documentaries that are wonderful, sometimes the talking is just a meal companion, but there are times when I think people are reading fewer good books and just clicking on mindless programs out of habit.

When I moved into my current home I intentionally did not put a television in the front room. There is plenty of seating and a small coffee table, lamps and a view to the dining room which opens into it. My television is in the family room. The front room is strictly for visiting and conversing with guests.

When I have been a guest in the homes of assorted members of my family I have been variously subjected to violence so graphic I have been known to leave the room, or I feel like a captive audience enduring sitcoms I can barely tolerate while others are laughing with great delight. Last night was an example of the later with what went on and on as a kind of marathon and when it finally ended there were re-runs of a 1950s show that were funny fifty years ago. I kept thinking that surely cousins that I have not seen in six months could think of something we could all talk about, but I guess not.

As a contrast, I spent today with a friend in my neighborhood, whom I see or communicate with on a fairly regular basis. We sat down at her dining room table with her husband and son and talked through dinner and when the men moved to another room to watch television, she and I talked for about three more hours. When I got home I felt like I shared thoughts and visited with my friend.


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