Learning to Converse

When you are from a large family—I am one of five children—memories of time spent one-on-one with an adult are precious. I am especially fond of the times when my grandmother and I would go visiting. Hand-in hand, we’d leave our summer home and walk along the shoreline to other camps to see who might be available for a chat.

Certain of my family members would tell you I enjoyed this because I like to talk too much. I’d put forth a different perspective: I was learning the fine art of conversation.

This is not a milestone we typically discuss when thinking of childhood development.  First smile, first babbling, first time sticking the foot in the mouth, first words, first steps—yes. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard someone say “Little Johnny conversed today!” As a matter of fact, I hardly ever hear anyone using the word “converse.”

Yet I recall clearly the first time I walked in on my sons, who at the time were probably 4-1/2 and 2-1/2, doing just that. The miracle of it took me unaware, since this milestone is so often overlooked. Until then all communication came through me—but this day they were talking to one another, affirming their senses of self without need of my intervention.

That’s what happened on these visits my grandmother and I made. Each fostered a thoughtful sharing of opinions and stories in a setting far removed from the debate-fueled hubbub at our crowded camp, where I always felt a little lost. While visiting I listened to new perspectives; they asked questions. I answered; they chuckled. My comments were not adrift in a sea of other voices. I was learning who I was.

There were always tangible rewards. Mr. Bassett served marshmallows (a fisherman always in need of bait, he also fueled my comic book habit by paying a nickel a piece for frogs I caught). Mr. Brown offered peanuts, and Mrs. North would often give out a Golden Book (my favorite was Alexander Kitten, who always did his duty).

The rewards at this blog might be less tangible, but I hope it will be a gift nonetheless. In our age of information overload, I hope it’s a place where you can lay down the the burden of your long to-do list and engage for a few minutes with other people and a new idea or two. To this day I formulate my own opinions one of two ways: through conversation or writing. My goal here is to do both.

But a visit requires more than one participant. I very much would like to hear comments from you! Please consider leaving a comment and being part of the conversation so that together, through shared perspective, our understanding and wisdom will deepen.

As it turned out, learning to talk to all sorts of different people ended up being invaluable to my future career as a writer and small business owner. On those summer days of my youth I unknowingly soaked up lessons in storytelling craft, particularly voice and point of view. I honed my critical thinking. I shared my love of reading and learned rudimentary networking and interviewing techniques. I also developed an enduring love for the fine art of conversation.

pitcherflowersAfter those visits my grandmother and I would meander home along the road with sweets in our bellies, new ideas to ponder, and no pressing need to talk. And by the time we got back to our camp I had a fistful of wildflowers in my left hand, and a stronger bond with my grandmother in my right.

Do you have any special memories about going visiting, or learning the art of polite conversation? I’d love to hear about it.

For more on this topic check out The Four Secrets of Learning Masterful Conversation by Loren Ekroth, in which she says, “Conversation is like a dance, taking turns, following and leading.”