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May 17th, 2019
As public conversation trickles into new and strange spaces thanks to the proliferation of digital portals, questions pop up about how to keep our conversation healthy. Much discourse seems to lack generosity, thoughtfulness, empathy and ultimately: effective results.
In many cases conversation seems to function as an avenue for narcissism. We merely wait for our own turn to talk in order to hear our own voice, while only blithely addressing the topic addressed in the same manner by a companion in dialogue.
The word ‘converse’ might as well be ‘contra-verse’. Two verses or perspectives that lack any kind of fruitful synergy.
The word converse has etymological roots meaning ‘to turn around’.
The implication here seems to be persuasion. We converse in order to persuade another of our point. Considering how rare an effective instance of persuasion seems to be, the imaginary word contra-verse (meaning, roughly contrary verses) seems to be more appropriate.
There remains a useful juxtaposition to highlight the problems with modern conversation in a more intuitive way.
We need only ask what are the differences and similarities between:
The two concepts as practices surely inspire a totally different flavor in the mind.
The chief difference is easy to spot: in an interview the focus and concentration is one person thoughts, ideas and point of view. In a conversation the focus is more diffuse, or rather, it mostly flip-flops between one person’s point of view and the other person’s point of view. The definitions differentiated here contain an important point: rarely in conversation are both people focusing on the same point of view.
In an interview, however, the focus of both people is consistently unified on the topic of one person’s point of view. Certainly there are disingenuous interviewers who have an agenda and seek to create gotchya-interviews which intend to make a person look like a fool, but then this sort of aim betrays our working definition of an interview. In such a case the interviewer is focused on a secret point of view that is whipped out when the person being interviewed has created a linguistic space that can be flipped into their own undoing.
Without a secret agenda, an interview seeks to explore another person’s point of view in the most honest and generous way possible, generating questions that allow the person in focus to further extrapolate on points and perspectives raised.
Now realize how rarely this kind of focus exists in conversation. Usually, a conversation entails two people trying in vain to get the other person to generously explore the perspective they prattle on about.
For those who are thoroughly exhausted by the contentious and fruitless merry-go-round of ineffective conversation, it may be an interesting experiment and possibly an invaluable tool to make a practice of viewing conversations as an interviewer – to ask questions and explore another’s perspective, no matter how repulsive.
Not only does this give us a fuller picture of who we are dealing with, but it may even present the opportunity for our companion in dialogue to realize new truths about their own perspective, truths unavailable because they’d never been able to ask themselves a set of questions flavored by a wholly different perspective, namely: our own.
This episode references Episode 390: Question about the Question
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