Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Lost Art of Conversation

I was reading Anna Karenina the other day, and came across a chapter where a character invites guests over for dinner. Offhand, that sounds like nothing special, but it was described so intentionally, that I couldn't get over it.

The dinner was what could almost be considered a party. It was 8 individuals or so, who weren't part of the same circle of friends. They weren't all one chummy group. Some were related. Some were acquainted. Some were political rivals. However, the host arranged it all so that the dynamic characteristics of each of his guests would be on display. He intentionally invited certain people to introduce them, because he knew they would get along greatly.

Then, during the party, he would mingle between guests, bringing up topics he knew they would find interesting. He encouraged conversation. He knew how to avoid touchy subjects. It was incredible.

In our day, things like this just don't happen. In a sermon by John MacArthur that I was listening to yesterday, he was talking about how people are becoming more and more individualized, and don't see values in relationship. We don't see dependence on others as a good thing. We like to be autonomous. We take pride in the fact that we can get along on our own, without help from family or friends. Now, I'm not saying you should be a burden on someone, or that working to provide for yourself is wrong. Not at all. My point is that we lack that link that generations before us found vital.

If you were to invite eight people over for dinner, who would it be? They couldn't be of the same group- your basketball team, your Bible study. Just eight people who you think could thrive off of each others experiences and conversation. I don't think I know eight people's personalities well enough to know what sort of things they would have in common with my other friends. It's quite sad.

Another experience I had recently was a stop I had on the way back from a family vacation. We spent two nights at my Aunt and Uncle's house in southern Alberta. I have always loved talking to my aunt, and this time, I wanted to figure out why. Why is it I feel so comfortable with this woman who I really only see twice a year at the most?

She makes you feel she's listening. She asks intentional questions. She cares about what your goals and dreams are. She never questions "how can you afford to do that?" or "is that really the best use of time?". She's genuinely excited about your life, and what you're excited about. She knows how to create these sorts of conversations where you can really meet someone. I don't feel I know her quite as well as she knows me, but I feel that's my fault. I haven't been intentional about asking. I haven't developed that skill.

That's something I really want to work on. People usually love to share themselves, but we're too busy trying to get our point across that we miss the experiences they're trying to share with us.


Kevin said...

That's a really interesting idea for a dinner party, though I feel like I would never dare do anything like that to introduce new relationships between people. I am, however, a huge fan of strange triangles, where 3 people all know each other for different reasons. That makes for great conversation.

Susanna Campbell said...

This reminds me of one of the points John T made in Bible study last night. We cannot grow as Christians without surrounding ourselves with community, relationships. The varied personalities and traits of our friends bring out the different characteristics and facets of our own lives. I think the whole dinner party scenario would be great fun; but I need to brush up on my conversational skills before I attempt such a thing!

Master Poo said...

A facebooker has a thousand friends. Who can they comfortably invite to a social dinner? And how many do you think that is?

She Wrote said...

Those who would do well at your dinner party are individuals who are not "married" to their cell phones or texting. I have found such people seldom converse personally, are used to expressing themselves but not so good in eliciting information. I was once in a group while working at a particular location and between the six of us, we rotated which of our homes would host a dinner party regularly. Great fun and made for strong bonds that still exist.