The Art of Conversation This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     “Did you see her hair?”“That’s nasty!” “Oh, I know.” “Didyou hear about ...”

Nearly everywhere you go, you canexpect to hear this. Hallways buzz with it. Buses hum with it. The airvibrates with it. “Talk is cheap,” the expression goes,“because supply exceeds demand.” Much of the time, we talkwithout considering what we are saying; the words leap from our mindsinto our mouths with no barriers to slow the rush. Conversation beginsalmost the second we come into contact with another and continuesthroughout the day with the aid of cell phones and computers. We thriveon it. It suppresses unpleasant thoughts, kills time, and offers arelease of emotions. Yet we indulge in conversation so oftenthat we lose sight of its true purpose and value. Author OscarWilde, who was renowned for his wit, said that “Conversation isone of the loveliest of the arts.” But many of our conversationsare wasted opportunities for artistic expression. So much is beingtalked about, yet so little is ever really said.

We use wordsand phrases that have become almost devoid of meaning through theiroveruse. They skip like flat stones across the sea of insight andunderstanding. Sometimes it seems that we talk to another’sappearance rather than to the person.

One crucial aspect of agood conversation is the words used to express thoughts and feelings. Weare capable of profound thoughts and potent emotions, yet ourvocabularies are inadequate for this expression, and many make littleeffort to expand that. Perhaps you see a movie that touches you deeply,yet you have the following conversation:

“So, what did youthink of the film?”

“Oh, my God, it was so sad. Iswear, I went through, like, a box of tissues. I wasbawling.”

This dialogue is hardly an effective way ofexpressing feelings. It gives no hint of how the movie truly affectedyou, or why. Such commonplace phrases are certainly not adequate todescribe a deeply moving experience. However, not only must you try toavoid overused words, you must also be careful in your selection. Youcan use words like weapons to defend yourself, or as windows to show aglimpse of your soul. The purpose of expanding vocabulary is not to usethe largest or most impressive words, but to find those best suited.

Through reading, not only can we learn new words but how to usethem effectively. However, many do not read enough, or do not read booksthat challenge them. Through pursuing knowledge, we can discoverlanguage that better fits our thoughts, ideas, andpassions.

There is much to examine and explore that we rarelytouch in our conversations. We do not question what we see and hear, nordo we challenge others’ assumptions, or bring up the questionsthat secretly haunt us or cause us to wonder.

Often, peopleaccept gossip without questioning its validity, and others are hurt as aresult. We hear people make generalizations and jump to conclusions, yetwe never ask why. No matter how many believe something, you can neverassume it is true. For example, even if the whole world believed that2 + 2 = 5, it still would not be correct. We need to challengeothers’ assumptions, and force them either to justify them orrecognize the falsity of their beliefs.

Most importantly, weneed to question everything. Surely at some point you have been hauntedby some essential question. Why not bring it up in a conversation? Whynot plunge headfirst into the sea of wisdom? Wisdom is, after all, oneof the greatest gifts we have. Conversation should be a method ofexploring the nature of the universe as well as humannature.

Also lacking in many conversations is the ability to talkto another rather than just talking with that person. We avoidpenetrating discussions, partly because many do not want to think deeplyabout anything, especially themselves. They would rather let themselvesbe carried away by waves of emotions without contemplating what causesthem.

If we neglect to reflect on our feelings, why would wediscuss them with others? Besides, such discussions tend to make manyuncomfortable. Because what little we do know about what lies within ourhearts, we guard against prying eye. Consequently, we feel thatto try to catch a glimpse of what lies in another’s soul would tobe to commit a fundamental violation of privacy. We dissemble our natureunder a guise we have chosen, and by lifting another’s mask, youmight drop yours. If this happens, you may find yourself in thesituation you fear most - to see yourself mirrored in the eyes ofanother. We much prefer to concentrate on holding onto our masks, butthe longer we do this, the more difficult it becomes to take it off. Itis important that we confront what lies within us. Exposing some of oursoul allows true communication, rather than just superficialchatter.

A thoughtful person will find that even in themost ordinary of conversations, there are a thousand questions waitingto be asked if you have courage and a desire for change. Instead ofglancing off the great barrier of appearance, strike at the core. Seekout the person behind the mask.

To quote Oscar Wilde again,“Language is the noblest instrument we have, either for therevealing or the concealing of thought; talk itself is a sort ofspiritualized action.” Conversations should not be made up ofmeaningless drivel, but of a meeting of two sharing the human condition.It should bring enlightenment, and a purer sympathy for others. If wewant, we can reach beyond the superficiality of talk into the infiniterealm of wisdom.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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