One thing I miss and that I used to enjoy a great deal was meeting a couple of friends at the coffee shop or the quirky bar for a discussion about Art. As a painter and living in a town where I knew more people, this was a fairly regular thing for me. And the discussions got heated when we talked about what was or wasn’t art or I remember one discussion in particular: Is there such a thing as “absolute truth”? That was fun.
Regardless of whether or not we agreed with each other, our friendships seemed to only grow stronger with each face-to-face argument we had and, yes, arguments are what they were. We sharpened our intellectual and philosophical swords while jousting with each other. Were we scholars? Not really. You don’t have to be a scholar to engage in arguments about the so called Big Questions in life. And why do we avoid the big questions in life? We all deal with them almost every day. Why not tell someone about that little curiosity you observed in Nature in your own backyard that seems to confirm the existence of God? Why not ask: Is there an absolute Truth or is everything in the universe a haphazard sequence of coincidences?
I surmise that we don’t talk about the big questions in life because we have—many of us have—lost the art of conversation. We’ve forgotten how to crack a funny comment just when the tension gets too much and the conversation threatens to go to the dark side. We’ve forgotten that it’s all right to capitulate on our position—to give ground—in order not to anger or humiliate our friend and that we should never, never resort to insult in stressing our point. We seemed to have lost these dialogue strategies which our grandparents where quite comfortable with and made use of all the time. So instead of relearning how good conversation works, we continue to lengthen the list of taboo subjects which we refuse to approach, to the point that we can no longer talk about anything, except the weather, sports, and our latest purchasing experience. How boring!
But I believe for the mental health of society, we are going to have to relearn the techniques of the Art of Conversation. And we will have to relearn that always being right and vitriol have no place in the human-to-human exchange of ideas, that respect for the person you’re talking to trumps winning the argument and that it is your sense of humor which attracts others to your side.
So here, I offer this point of view. I invite you to disagree with me in the comments, if you do. Let’s talk without rancor and enjoy the experience. Shall we? Or we could talk baseball, instead.