”Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits.’’ Theodore Zeldin, Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives

I ate ants last week. Little black ants from Paramatta. Farmed ants apparently.

Now there’s an interesting conversation starter.

Imagine a world without conversation. It hasn’t been around that long.

The idea of conversation dates to Socrates. Before Socrates, the ancient Greeks had latched onto the art of speaking but it was all one-sided. It was rhetoric or the ability to speak persuasively: one person would stand up and talk and talk and talk.

It was Socrates who believed everyone had interesting ideas and when two people questioned each other in a respectful manner they could learn their own truths. Dialogue in other words.

Socrates wanted people to question everything and work things out for themselves rather than just repeat something they’d heard: ”Whatever they happened to be doing at the moment they must have a reason, they must think it was right, or just, or beautiful.’’ Theodore Zeldin says in An Intimate History of Humanity.

That’s what I’m trying to do: figure out my place in the world by asking questions.

It’s a prolific garden of thought.

According to Zeldin, the idea of conversation began to mature to include ”politeness, gentleness, tact and culture’’ in the Renaissance when Madame de Rambouillet started organizing her salons. Salon in French means a lounge or a living room and, to me, implies an intimate place so it’s easy to see how a salon could encourage intimate conversations.
Today, when we’re still trying to figure out how to converse, text messages and social media are luring us back to rhetoric. Yes, you can find some interesting articles and yes people do share thoughts, but sometimes I feel like we’re all just standing up and shouting at the same time. That we’re not digging deeper into dialogue. That we’re not learning from conversation. That we’re not listening.
If we aren’t open and listening, if we aren’t learning, if we aren’t tuned in to the fine art of conversation, we certainly aren’t going to connect or belong. And we won’t help others to belong either.
Oh yes, the ants. They tasted, well, black and crunchy.