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February 14, 2013
Or should we say the lost art?
"The surest proof of animal-stupidity is ardent obstinacy of opinion. Is there anything more certain, decided, disdainful, contemplative, grave and serious, than a donkey?"
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne was not a great fan of donkeys or polite conversation:
"We ought to toughen and fortify our ears against being seduced by the sound of polite words. It is not harmony we are seeking in conversation, you cannot dig out the truth if everyone agrees."
In the 16th century, Montaigne essentially invented the literary essay—a short subjective treatment of a given subject— and his essay on conversation was one of his best.
He believed, as Socrates did, "This world is but a school of inquiry."
“But even if one says silly things in conversation, which everyone is wont to do at one time or other, the important this is to be willing to admit your opinion is wrong.”
He predated other great French minds, although, at least, Marcel Proust and François duc de La Rochefoucauld had the advantage of having imaginary conversations with Montaigne.
Rochefoucauld, who claimed the extreme pleasure we take in talking about ourselves ought to clue us in that we hardly give any to those listening to us:
“The reason why so few people are agreeable in conversation is that each is thinking more about what he intends to say than about what others are saying, and we never listen when we are eager to speak.”
Marcel Proust was a modest man and subscribed to Rochefoucauld's tenet:
Writer Georges de Lauris on Proust:
“He was the best of listeners. Even in his intimate circle his constant care to be polite prevented him from pushing himself forward and from imposing subjects of conversation...these he found in others’ thoughts.”
Some think, in a world increasingly populated by sound bytes and self- involvement, chitchat is in and depth is out.
A recent study in the U.K. indicated people at work change topics after two or three turns.
I was impressed they lasted that long.
So do you think we've lost the art of conversation or is it just evolving in a different way?
Montaigne did say, “There is no conversation more boring than the one where everybody agrees.
I don't have to worry about that here.
Since the beginning of time, we have asked a not so simple question. What is love?