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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

EDITORIAL: The Lost Art of Civil Conversation


I remember a time when the ⁢act⁣ of conversation itself emanated charm;​ sharing a late evening coffee at ⁣Woolworth’s or spending a lazy ⁣Saturday afternoon under the welcoming shade of‍ a tree in Central Park just⁣ talking about the week ⁤that ‌was and musing about the week to come. But then, I remember⁤ a lot of things; when people relied on wristwatches and ⁣not shiny handheld oblongs to ⁤tell time, when a ⁤hard-earned dollar had weight ‌to it and when civility,‍ without question,⁤ was the cornerstone of every⁢ productive conversation.

Alas,​ I find that as of late, the art of civil conversation – that dance of ideas, the‍ courteous‍ exchange of thoughts – ‍is falling out of favour,⁢ slipping away from the tips of our tongues and ​it becomes increasingly harder to retrieve the ⁣further we advance, at least technologically. But then, what would I know, right? I mean,‍ besides ⁢being witness ⁢to​ more⁤ than fifty springs unfurl right here in Schenectady, listening to the region’s ⁣heartbeat, and being privy ⁣to its stories – whispered ⁣and shouted alike.

It seems we are amidst a quiet​ revolution where non-verbal nuances and‍ adequate verbal pauses‍ are being‌ replaced by acronyms, emoticons and ruthless efficiency that leaves little room ‍for the tenderness that a heart-to-heart once required.⁤ Don’t get me wrong, I adore the convenience ​that technology⁤ has brought to our lives. But as the proverbial double-edged sword, it has also eroded the‍ charm off interpersonal communication, converting heartfelt debates to terse exchanges of tweets.

Maybe ​you’re ⁢not ​old enough to remember, or maybe you just never got the chance to‍ experience an actual debate; where it was as much⁤ about the tone ⁢of voice, the cadence and rhythm of speech, the⁤ occasional flash of vulnerability and the willingness to ‍listen, learn and alter one’s perspective. Let me​ tell you son, ⁤it sure was something!

I ⁤remember back in⁣ the day, early‌ 70s ⁣it was, Leo, ⁢a ​friend and a vociferous Nixon supporter, and I⁣ rarely⁣ saw eye-to-eye on matters political. Countless evenings were spent ‌at ⁢our local watering hole, The Flamingo, animatedly dissecting policies over a pint or three. But what stands out ‍about​ those evenings was not the disagreements, it was the ⁣respect we shared. We‍ were willing to listen, coming from a ‍place⁤ of ​mutual understanding – acknowledging the fact that we were two⁤ individuals shaped by different experiences, and ⁤thus there stands to reason our ideas would differ. There was no name-calling, no spitting ​venom, just the pure joy ⁣of civil conversation.

But today, we seem to have rendered ourselves incapable of conducting ⁤such conversations –⁢ face-to-face, without the refuge of ‌an indignant block button⁤ or the possibility of⁢ curating a one-sided narrative with a⁢ deadline that barely tolerates the essence of civil conversation. We feel backed into a ‍corner, defending our ​positions with an‌ unwarranted ferocity, ⁢while refusing to loosen the grip we exert on our preconceived beliefs. The realm for ‍civil conversation is instead dominated by ⁤a deeply polarized, either you’re with⁢ me or against ‌me optic, as though there can be no ⁤room for a middle ground, no acceptance for nuance.

A whiskey-fueled chat with my neighbour, Bob, recently had me laying bare my concerns about this issue. Bob, a printer by⁣ trade, has seen the traditional process of colour lithography giving ​way to digital convenience. He reminisced how his craft, much like face-to-face conversations, was considerably more tactile, personal ‌and charmingly unpredictable. I would have loved to carry on that ⁤conversation further, but my grandkids were having a hard ⁣time grasping this non-virtual grandpa-grandchildren conversation, their⁢ smartphones kept beckoning them.

And so here we ‌are – no time, patience or indeed courage to engage in civil conversation. ⁤We need to learn again that the act of conversation is not just a transactional exchange of words, but ⁤a vat of‍ shared experiences, ideas, dreams, hopes and fears. Firstly, we need to reassure ourselves⁣ that it’s okay ⁤to be wrong, it’s okay to ‌not know. And ‌more importantly, it’s even⁣ better to admit that, to‌ learn something new, to keep that flicker⁤ of curiosity alive and to humanise technology-aided⁢ conversations.

When you lose the art of civil conversation, what ‍you’re really losing is the diversity of thoughts, dreams, opinions, a slice of society that is different from your own,⁣ yet complements and⁣ nurtures it. I⁤ hope we rediscover ​the joy of unhurried, civil conversation; there is something about the ​human voice inflections, the glint in the ⁢eye, the shared laughter, the dignified disagreements, which no technology⁣ can match. And remember, my ⁢friend, ‍it does not require a ‍stage or an audience, merely presence and a willingness to⁤ truly listen. So,⁣ here’s to reclaiming our ‌conversational ⁢spaces. One civil discourse at a time.

Brian McCarthy
Brian McCarthy
I'm Brian McCarthy! At your service to offer traditionally informed perspective on today's issues. Some call it out of touch; I call it time-honored wisdom.
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