Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Dying Art of Conversation

I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’. For those of you who haven’t read it, take the time and look through it. There is something he calls ‘thin-slicing’—how to read people in the first few moments of meeting them. It really got me thinking about conversations and debates. People can be so involved in what they are saying that they fail to pick up on little cues to what the other person is thinking. If you can read the other person, it’s easier to shape your argument in a way that they might end up seeing your point of view. Now in the past few days I chatted about different things to a varied bunch of people: a Professor at Cambridge, a Fellow (and historian) at Cambridge, an Indian politician, a movie star, a successful lawyer and as usual, my friends. Now many of the themes were the same- Middle East crisis, Bombay blasts, Muslims in India, religion, and so on. Now everything is a matter of opinion. Coming home from Cambridge my brother and I were amazed at how well Professor Hoskins could hold a conversation. We joked about he was more of a Master of Conversation than a Master of Science! But then the next day we got embroiled in a crazy political conversation which soon dissolved into a screaming match. But this is what I don’t understand. Unless you only want to state your opinions louder than everyone else, one would assume that you would want to actually *gasp* HAVE A CONVERSATION! But it’s getting tough now. I have started respecting people who actually listen to others- in hopes of absorbing a new point of view- instead of listening impatiently waiting for their chance to start speaking again. [Admittedly I am guilty of doing the same, but that’s only when I have a reaaaallly interesting point I’m dying to make!] What is the point of trying to be smart by entering into an ‘intellectually stimulating’ conversation when you are going to intellectually dishonest about it and refuse to listen to anyone else?

‘Blink’ is about more than just the art of face-reading; it allows you to understand what instinctive reactions are all about. We’ve all had reactions in an instinct—but why do we? Why are we right some of the time, and wrong at the other times? Now take for instance a conversation on Sonia Gandhi- and what right she has to become PM of India. I know this topic leads to an explosion every single time because everyone has very different- but definite opinions about the topic. And when you are having a passionate debate at times- and this is something everyone is familiar with- you end up harassing each other on points that have nothing to do with the topic in hand! But even more interesting to me is the question- especially with my friends- if you and I have lived in the same circles, studied in the same schools, and so on, how do we end up with such dramatically different ways of seeing the world? And such different value systems?!

My friend’s father was just telling me that he appreciated the way I handled myself in a recent heated debate we had about politics. He said he may not have agreed with all of what I was saying but I was able to hold a debate in a really good way. I didn’t step on any toes. Its funny- because little did he know that this is exactly what my post has been about.

So my question is, in all this talking, why do we stop listening? I have spent countless hours arguing with some people for the sake of it- and none of us have gained much from the other. But on the other hand, some conversations are pivotal to my life. I’ve learnt so much. I think this is why I loved History as a subject so much. It taught me more about the world, and every time I walked out of class, I felt I’d become smarter. So I guess it’s crucial to learn- as it is to make allowances for the fact that different views DO exist in the world and instead of rejecting them outright, perhaps understanding where they come from will help you see it better.

How can someone’s entire view point and understanding of the world be dismissed by someone else? Ugh, this is the age of democracy people. TALK.

12 comments:

Aye Davanita said...

You can not simplify everything with Black and White and expect to get away with it by adding a miniscule gray-ish caveat here and there.

The dying art of conversation - I like the title. As usual, the first and most expected response - easier said than done Mahima. "Talk". People's reflections of right and wrong (eventually forming the basis of opinions and judgements they hold on others) is almost always a reflection of how they've felt THEY were right-ed or wronged. In the sense that, a person's foundation/basis is a result of how the things they went through were categorized - which subsequently results in their categorization of others actions.

As far as conversing goes - you're normalizing every individual's ability to effectively and efficiently express themselves. But alliterations aside, forget about the opinions right. We're talking about one of the fundamental functions of a person - to communicate. I don't know about you, but more often than not I've found myself disagreeing with someone simply because they've been extremely incompetent at saying what they're wanting to say (thats also cuz I'm a prick - but that aside). I'm even ignoring language barriers here. I'm talking about people of the same continent, shit... locality even.

Sweeping statement -if people could "communicate" there would be no need for war, boundaries... shit - there wouldn't be a need for a government.

Lastly, I feel scared for the generations that will succeed ours who cannot hold an intelligible conversation for more than 5 minutes but can spend hours using a single finger to jam text messages into their phones without ONCE glancing at it... (yikes!)

mahima said...

Yeah--- right? I know I make sweeping statements but I mean it more in a - things I experience in my own life- kinda way. Isn't it annoying to have the same conversation with people till you think you're going crazy cause no progress is being made? Esp now with so much going on I find we just keep barking our half assed opinions at eachother and seriously, its getting old now.

Btw, I'm trying to figure out if I actually know you in *real* life? Do I? Sorry, I was just curious right now ..

:)

Aye Davanita said...

haha...

yes - its Aman, i just changed my name cuz I realized everytime you put my name into Google aaalll my posts (bahel.blogpost.com) show up as well as comments on others pages.

thought you knew that...

Aye Davanita said...

...and yes - its bloody frustrating. In the fight to be unique and overestimated rather than the contrary, I've noticed a trend. Everyone believes that having an opinion (whether baseless or otherwise) is a pre-requisite to recognition (of sorts).

But this is a good things and thematically meshes well into your recent posts. At least, in this effort to stand out and be recognized, hopefully general knowledge is filtering through the crazy pre-conceived notions that govern and drive most folk's opinions and actions. Leading to your utopian dream of "TALKING".

oui?

mahima said...

oui :)

Ok I'm in the middle of working on my thesis but I checked in to say AHHH --you just sounded familiar lol

Till next time!!

Aye Davanita said...

hopefully thats a good "familiar" - and yes, till next time.

Looking forward to your next post and hoping you make it over to mine sometime.

cheers...

Pirate of the Arabian said...

Not listening usually stems from a know-it-all complex.. the "I specialists"
You (generic you)think you have the answers to everything and the other's point of view, if not rubbish, is puerile compared to the gems of wisdom you have tucked behind your tongue..
From an extended experience in editorial meetings, I'v learnt its easier to rip apart a debate by shutting up and listening for awry tangents rather than jumping into the fray with a "But I ..."

Nice post by the way

Ksingh said...

the part about how we all come from such similar backgrounds, schools etc and still end up having such different opinions, is the best aspect about us ,i feel.

whats the point of being "educated" and end up just agreeing with each other

you said yourself you would jump into a conversation and try to be louder than the rest if you had a really good point. most of the time people think that they have a killer point, though usually thats not the case... is it .

jerry said...

Hmm, seems quite interesting. I've faced such circumstances. But I suppose I'm a listener, at more occassions. But yes, what happened to that little line which draws between an arguement and a conversation. One has to think from different perspectives. Oherwise what Orwell once said will stand true: 'In the days to come, bullshit will be taken closest to truth'. Cheers...

jerry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pankaj said...

I think that the conclusion you have come to rests on an extremely crucial presumption about the nature of a "conversation" in general and of an "argument" in particular, namely the starting assumptions (axioms, if you will) of the parties involved. A conversation is of any worth, IF AND ONLY IF, both parties agree on some common minimum ground to start from - without this consensus (tacit or otherwise) conversing is futile, and doomed to absurdity. A simple and good analogy would be the information exchange between two (or more) computers .. which is impossible if either machine does not conform to the same basic principles of information encoding and processing.

Ergo, as is the case with computers, among humans too, with their eclectic cultural, linguistic, socio-economic and even genetic backgrounds, successful communication (assuming that it is possible at all) requires a LOT MORE than plain talking (though, talking, ofcourse is very important too). It involves, first and foremost, recognising common ground; failure to do which (due to lack of will or inability of either party) has been & will continue to be the cause of much strife throughout the world. Infact, one can further argue that violence (whether physical or psychological), perpetrated by one party to the argument against another, is not a symptom of break-down in communication, but infact a continuation of it .. an attempt to coerce the other to a common ground.

However, in the present stage of evolution of humankind (or atleast some parts of it), reducing the communication to such base levels is repulsive to contemplate; but that does not change the basic nature of communication, which is to find the common ground as an 'a priori' requirement for a meaningful (& hopefully, mutually beneficial) dialogue. In the absence of such an eventuality, mutual dismissal is an infinitely better option than to continue the communication to even lower levels, which remains the only way to realise meaningful results.

Anonymous said...

I think we have stopped listening to a great extent. I work in a newsroom and listening is well... for the person who's getting yelled at! its such a pity. I wish people would realize that life's not just about making a point all the time. That it's as much about being for things and people than against them.