“The best of life is conversation, and the greatest success is confidence, or perfect understanding between sincere people” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

THE GIFT OF LANGUAGE CAN BE USED ON HIGH OCCASIONS, BUT IT CAN ALSO BE USED IN EVERYDAY CONVERSATION. Our lives would be enriched if we learned more of the value of good conversation and more of the skill that’s required to engage in it.

Sydney J. Harris wrote, “The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” Conversation falls into the category of “communication” rather than mere “information.” It calls for an investment of ourselves.

Good conversation is challenging because it requires that we balance so many elements and avoid so many extremes. It should be “pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood” (Shakespeare). Consider two particular areas of concern.

(1) We should avoid saying some things at all. Earl Wilson was right when he said, “If you wouldn’t write it and sign it, don’t say it.” Gossip is tempting, but it furnishes poor material for genuine conversation.

(2) We should avoid saying too much. Most of us have a tendency to keep talking when we should take a breather. Many a thought has been suffocated by being expressed in too many words. And many a conversation has been destroyed by one person’s domination of it.

All in all, good conversation is a challenge. It’s an art that has to be learned. But oh, what a delightful art once we’ve learned a bit of it. Few things equal the simple pleasure of “conversing.” In the words of Samuel Johnson, “That is the happiest conversation where there is no competition, no vanity, but a calm quiet interchange of sentiments.”

Conversation is but carving!
Give no more to every guest
Than he’s able to digest.
Give him always of the prime,
And but little at a time.
Carve to all but just enough,
Let them neither starve nor stuff,
And that you may have your due,
Let your neighbor carve for you.
(Jonathan Swift)

Gary Henry – WordPoints.com

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