Friday, March 31, 2023
#90 / What Conversation Can Do For Us
In yesterday's blog posting, I referenced a book review from the March 20, 2023, edition of The New Yorker. As it turns out, that edition of the magazine had another book review worth reading, too. Under the title, "Good Talk," Hua Hsu, who is a professor of English at Bard College, tells us "what conversation can do for us (and particularly politically)."
In short, conversation can do a lot!
The book review I am talking about highlights two recent books. Let me focus here on the first, by Paula Marantz Cohen. Cohen is a professor of English at Drexel University; her book is called, Talking Cure: An Essay on the Civilizing Power of Conversation. Cohen makes the case that "talking to others—sharing our stories—is how we learn things and sharpen our belief systems, [and] how we piece together what it means to be funny or empathetic." Conversation, says Cohen, can "change our minds while sustaining our souls."
Cohen's argument in favor of "talking to others" sounds quite a bit like my own argument that we need to practice the art of "talking to strangers." My own advocacy is aimed less at "sustaining our souls" than at sustaining democratic self-government; however, "good talk" can definitely have numerous positive impacts on our lives. If you want to take a Psychology Today "quiz" on how much you know about "talking to others," just click right here.
While I feel certain that conversation can be good for us individually, I am even more certain that we need to appreciate the power of "good talk" when we think of it as something that has "collective" benefits, not just "individual" benefits. One of my favorite phrases ("we are together in this") is, in fact, an assertion that we are "together" in being alive - that we are, ultimately, part of the whole of humanity, and not just a bunch of "individuals." You may remember that John Donne said something similar. If we really believed that we are "together" in this life, that we are all "part of the main," and if we understood what this actually implies, we could then have a "politics" that would work.
Talking to each other can help us realize the mutuality of our common situation. By contrast, talking to oneself, or talking only to those with whom we know there will be no disagreement, is the opposite of what can "bind us together in the "mystic chords of memory," to use the words of Abraham Lincoln. When we acknowledge, in mutual conversation, our common past, and common destiny - even as we may have differences of opinion on our present situation - we will, inevitably, call forth the "better angels of our nature."
We need to call upon them now!