THE ART of CONVERSATION.
This should preceed what is already on our site.
WHAT IS GOOD CONVERSATION?
H AVE YOU EVER STOPPED TO THINK THAT YOUR VERY HAPPINESS, AS WELL AS YOUR SUCCESS IN ALL OF LIFE, DEPENDS TO A GREAT EXTENT UPON YOUR ABILITY TO DAILY CARRY ON AN INTERESTING AND INTELLIGENT CONVERSATION?
DO YOU REALIZE THAT THE PEOPLE WHO RECEIVE SALARY INCREASES OR PROMOTIONS TO POSITIONS OF POWER OR WHO WIN POPULARITY AT SOCIAL GATHERINGS ARE MOST USUALLY PEOPLE WHO SMILE AND TALK ENGAGINGLY AND DISTINCTIVELY?
And when you stop to think about it, there is nothing surprising at all about this fact, for conversation is the great universal need of mankind. You live in a world of people, and people relate to one another, do business with one another, and get to know one another by means of words. Conversation is the bridge which you must build to meet your fellow human beings.
In the morning you converse with the members of your family at breakfast.
During the day you discuss business or professional matters on the job. At coffee breaks and at lunch you converse with friends or fellow workers. At dinner, after dinner, on all sorts of social occasions, you relate to other people by speaking and listening.
There is no time, no age, no occasion when you may not be called upon to converse. And by the quality of your conversation you help determine what your relationship to other people will be, both on and off the job. Since you now are interested in improving your conversational powers, you will be glad to know that there is a definite technique of conversation, a method that enables you to master this accomplishment and to express yourself with confidence on all occasions. If you follow the suggestions and apply the rules in this course, you will feel more at ease in every gathering.
Furthermore, you will learn how to derive both pleasure and benefit from almost every human contact . In short, you will gain pleasure, increase your popularity, and improve yourself in the social, home, and business worlds.
As an intelligent adult you desire three things:
1. Ability to make friends easily
2. Freedom and confidence in self expression
3 A sense of mental growth.
Courses of all sorts are given to satisfy these needs but what value has the study of art, history, music, or science, if, when you are with people, you find yourself saying trite, tiresome, or depressing things, and failing to make friends? The only worthwhile culture is that which can be expressed as a part of your personality.
THE GAME OF CONVERSATION
LET US START BY CONSIDERING THE FACT -------
THAT CONVERSATION IS A GAME.
Does that idea startle you? ----People play many games, you know, whether in business, in society, or in home life. Conversation is one of the most universal of games and, like any other game, it has rules and objectives.
Conversation is a game of social contact in which we toss ideas back and forth for the twofold reward of pleasure and profit. Only those taking part can fully enjoy the exercise. By playing the game, you sharpen your wits and develop mental alertness.
Conversation is a sort of mental handball in which each player needs to have a great number of balls . Each ball, representing an idea, has the power of bouncing into any number of minds simultane.vusly. At the same time it remains with the one sender.
Conversation is thus a game in which no one who plays can lose.
Remember, we do not converse to defeat an opponent. This is a most important point. We converse for the mutual pleasure, profit, and enlightenment of all the players. We converse with others, not against them.
As in all games certain equipment is necessary. Our equipment for the game of
1. Ideas (varied and interesting)
2. Vocabulary (extensive and personal)
3. Voice (pleasing and well modulated)
4. Diction (clear and distinct)
After these basic items of equipment are acquired, however, ease in conversation is not immediately forthcoming. Why should it be’? Having the equipment is not the same as being skillful, if you were presented with a set of golf clubs and given access to a golf course, that would not make you a golfer. You would have to study the principles of the game and practice regularly before you developed skill. The same is true of conversation. You must study the principles, follow the rules, and practice daily until you are no longer self-conscious about the techniques.
With perseverance comes skill, and with skill in any game comes the satisfying pleasure of playing well.
I must add still another word about the need for perseverance and patience in also learning the game of conversation. This game, unlike casual sports, is played with your personality. You must admit to yourself right from the start that improving your skill in conversation means, in part, bringing about a growth in your very own personality. The person who listens but never speaks has a passive personality.
The person who fritters away conversation has a thoughtless personality. The real person who talks well has an active-minded personality. So you can see that by gaining skill in conversation will be, in part, a matter of making yourself less an object acted upon by people and circumstances, and more a person, socially more outgoing and active. Does this suggest that learning how to converse will take perseverance and patience? Ah, but does it not also suggest the deep personal benefits which can come from the learning’?
Follow the lessons diligently, then. Persevere! What you stand to gain is not only a better relationship with other people, but also a more satisfactory you.
Let us begin by examining the four basic principles of the art of conversation:
1. Don’t be silent.
2. Don’t chatter.
3. Stay with the subject.
4. Guide the conversation.
Now let us see what is involved in each of these principles.
First Principle: Don ‘t he silent.
Common courtesy demands that you speak! If you are only a listener, people are apt to think one of two things: either that you are dull and have nothing to say, or that you are unfriendly or uninterested and do not care to express your ideas.
On the other hand, if you do exchange ideas, you gain a keener enjoyment of great conversation, as well as an increased knowledge of human nature which may lead to a better understanding of life. You are playing the game of social contact, thus gaining pleasure, profit, and popularity.
Certain rules of conversation follow from this first principle.
If everyone should speak, then you must not only become a speaker yourself, but also encourage others to do the same. In a skillful conversation a newcomer just joining a group is drawn in and put at ease. If the newcomer is skillful, he will catch the topic being discussed and follow it, instead of breaking in with a subject of his own. In a skillful conversation, also, no one speaks twice until the others have spoken once, except to ask questions and “draw out” the silent members.
Second Principle: Don ‘t chatter.
The con in the word conversation means “with.” To converse is to talk with other people, not just to let your mouth chatter. If you talk constantly and thoughtlessly, you will find yourself being shunned. (And quite properly, too!) Listening is a very basic part of social relationships, and so it is essential to conversation.
To avoid monopolizing the conversation, you must find a subject of interest to the other person. This technique is especially valuable for conversationalists who tend to be shy or embarrassed. If you start out by trying to find a subject which interests your conversational partner, and get him talking, you take your mind off yourself and ease your embarrassment. After you get the other person talking, it will be easier for you to join in.
To avoid chattering, you must know the difference between a good subject for conversation and a silly or trivial subject. This is so important a point that I have given it a heading of its own, and you will find it discussed later in this Lesson under the heading “What to Talk About.”
For now just remember the principle . Let us sum it up in a slogan:
SLOGAN: Does it matter?----Is it just chatter?
Third Principle: Stay with the subject.
If the conversation is to be interesting and valuable, the ideas exchanged must be developed. Dull or, as it is often called, “ragbag” conversation is usually caused either by the introduction of unnecessary details or irrelevant ideas, or by a lack of intelligent selection and order. Conversation should never move in circles nor jump from subject to subject. It should lead to a conclusion or, at least, move forward.
Listen carefully to the conversational topics presented. This will cultivate alertness. Catch the first thought which is of general interest and, having decided to stay with that subject, add your own opinion and toss the subject back. who catches your thought will probably add his opinion and toss the idea to another member of the group. If he fails to do so, and you get no response, ask a question to draw out the silent members.
A worthwhile topic should grow as different people add their ideas. It is for you to guide or control the subject so that everyone will be eager to express his opinion.
After a well-ordered conversation you will know more about the subject discussed than you did when it was introduced. You may even have changed your viewpoint or modified your opinion. You will have a broader knowledge if various angles of a subject have been presented. In a group of eight or fewer each person should be permitted, even encouraged, to express himself on the subject being discussed.
No one should introduce a new subject until each has had an opportunity to offer his opinion. This creates general interest.
But if you think it is easy to stay with a subject, try it at the dinner table tonight. If you succeed in getting a group of people to discuss one subject for thirty minutes with no digression, you should feel greatly encouraged!
Fourth Principle: Guide the conversation.
Even though the subject may be of interest to the person who introduced it, unless the ideas presented will have value on the morrow for others in the group, it is a courtesy to change the topic of conversation. Many people relish telling others morbid details and reminiscing about disease and disaster . To a listener, however, such subjects are valueless and depressing.
Use the following question as an aid in deciding whether a subject is worth talking about: “Will this conversation have any value tomorrow?” If you think it will, add your idea . If not, the topic should be changed.
A student told me of calling on a friend who at once began to describe a recent operation. Three other guests were present. Though all appeared bored, the hostess stuck to the topic of interest to herself. The caller listened more or less patiently, then led the conversation to the subject of modern science (in connection with surgery).
Again the convalescent began her personal reminiscence. The caller then mentioned the value of a sea trip, discussed different boats, countries to be visited, and similar topics. “But after such an operation!” the convalescent exclaimed, on her pet subject again.
“Six times during the afternoon that woman began the same story,” my student reported. “She was becoming more melancholy with each repetition, but evidently enjoyed her misery. She kept me busy finding ways to head her off. I thought perhaps she would resent my interference, but fortunately ~he didn’t seem to notice it . It was very satisfying, however, to see her become a little more cheerful as the conversation finally flowed into healthier channels. When I left, she told me she felt much better and asked me to come again often.”
A great deal of tact is required in changing a topic which has been introduced. The conversation must be guided so diplomatically that the person who introduced the original subject will not realize that it is being changed. You must not get the idea that changing the subject is something you do to enable you to satisfy your own love of power; neither must you allow anyone to feel that the discussion is being dominated by one person. You must change the subject only when it is necessary for purely cultural purposes. Everyone, including a bore, will enjoy a conversation which does not leave him depressed, discouraged, or cynical.
A quick exchange of humorous experiences or a serious discussion of any worthwhile subject by which you may clarify your thoughts, stimulates and inspires for many days to come. Leading the conversation gently into optimistic, thought- provoking channels calls for serious creative effort. You must devise such interruptions as may seem natural or unavoidable to entice the company into new paths.
Ask yourself, “What subject could be substituted that really would be of value, as well as of interest?” Finding answers to this question will require much study. Tact, judgment, imagination, sympathy, an open mind, and humor are all necessary.
Three practical ways of changing a subject are listed here. Use the method or combination of methods which best fits the situation. As you acquire confidence and skill, you may create other devices of your own.
1. “That reminds me” method. Associate a new idea with the topic which must be changed. For example, eight of us were at the beach. One, a new member of the group, did not understand our laws of conversational guidance. The day was foggy, but it had not occurred to any of us that it was necessary to announce the fact. We have found that some of the most tiresome conversations develop from someone’s presenting the obvious and expecting others to become interested or excited about it. The new member hadn’t learned this, so he began, “It really has been very cold this summer; we seldom have such a long stretch of cold weather without a few warm days in between.”
Someone politely agreed and then said, “By the way, speaking of weather, did you know that a Columbia professor has evolved the theory that eventually the most intelligence of people may be definitely measured by the temperature of the country in which they live?”
“That sounds farfetched!---- How does he explain it?” This came from an argumentative friend. “He says that climate affects intelligence more than race or education does.”
It did not matter whether or not we agreed. It did matter that a useless conversation had been diverted into an interesting discussion that led to heredity, environment, racial traits, economic pressure, and other subjects far removed from the topic of weather.
2. “Will you help me?” method. Halt a bore in mid-sentence, as it were, by asking his advice about something. This must be done carefully and with the proper apologies for interrupting. The wish for advice must he sincere. This sincerity will be recognized by the interrupted speaker . Who would not willingly stop in the middle of his favorite subject if lie felt his advice was needed at once on an all-important matter? This is an excellent method for diverting an enthusiast who is talking shop or a mother extolling the merits of her children.
I do not mean that you must never permit people to talk “shop” or “children.” If, however, you have listened to similar remarks made by the same person many times before, you are justified in changing the subject, especially if, by doing so, you are making the conversation more enjoyable for everyone. Here is an example:
“Children are so cute when they are four or five years old,” said the fond mother, Mrs. Billings. “Johnnie gets more precocious every day. This morning he ——.“
“Oh, before I forget, Mrs. Billings, will you tell me .the date of the next PTA meeting? I wasn’t able to attend last week.”
“It is on the twelfth,” said Mrs. Billings absently, while deciding just what particular mark of Johnnie’s genius she should discuss first.
Before she had time, however, to revert to the subject, her friend continued, “And the speaker at the next meeting?”
“Professor Bacon is going to talk on Child Psychology.”
“I’m glad,” answered her friend. “I wonder if you would have time to read a part of ‘Everyday Problems of the Everyday Child,’ by Thom, and prepare a list of questions which we may present at the open forum following the lecture. Here’s the book. Suppose we look over the table of contents now and decide which seem to be the most important chapters.”
This they proceeded t o do. An interesting conversation followed regarding the necessity of parents’ understanding child psychology so that they may know the best methods of training their children.
3. “Isn’t it beautiful?” method. While walking or driving with a group, you can change the subject by attracting the speaker’s attention to some object sufficiently interesting to justify the interruption. Then tactfully guide the talk alone more constructive lines, linking it. perhaps, with the object recently pointed out. A good example of this is the following: We had driven through the beautiful military reservation, the Presidio, at San Francisco and reached the cliff road overlooking the Golden Gate. Before us rolled the broad Pacific. the sun glinting on its waves. Across the bay Mount Tamalpais reared its head above the friendly Mann Hills. This scene has inspired poets and painters and awed even confirmed globe-trotters. But it did not impress one of our group enough to stop the following remarks, which bubbled forth endlessly: “It’s pretty, isn’t it? We have seen some pretty spots on other vacations. But somehow we have had such disagreeable weather . It’s rained when it wasn’t supposed to, and it’s been cold, even in the summer. though I believe that weather is changing all over the country. My husband says that the North is getting warmer and the South is getting colder. Of course, this is the West, and I don’t know what we are supposed to expect here ~—-~“ and so on and on until somebody said: “Oh, excuse me, but there is the Palace of the Legion of Honor. Isn’t it a beautiful building? Suppose we go in for a few minutes. The building itself is worth a visit, an(l there is usually an art exhibit.’’
We visited the Palace and returned to the car. Other members of the group took up the conversation, which included the history of the building, its architectural beauty, and the various exhibits which had been held there during recent years.
That conversation was guided tactfully but firmly during the rest of the afternoon. Though we changed the subject which our visitor had introduced, she had a more interesting drive than if she had been permitted to ramble on undisturbed.
WHAT TO TALK ABOUT
You have undoubtedly noticed, in my development of the four basic principles, several hints about the kinds of topics which are for conversation. But this is so important a subject that I must give it a section of its own.
It is easy to list the most obvious areas of discussion that should be avoided. Disconnected. thoughtless remarks: personal, whining complaints: long descriptions ofyour illnesses or operations----—-these are not very promising topics, of course; in fact, they are boring and depressing. Another group of unpromising subjects is expressions of egotistical self-interest. Have you noticed that some people think any detail about themselves will interest the whole world’? As you pass their tables in the lunchroom, you may hear them spouting out little nuggets about themselves. “I never used to like walnuts, but now I do.”
“1 can’t stand to wear wool.’’
“I wake up at six-thirty every morning, workday or holiday.”
Unless they arc immediately broadened into topics of general interest , these offshoots of egotism are conversation stoppers, dead-end streets leading nowhere. One of my students once burst out angrily about a person who was always ready with such egotistical tidbits, “He’s not conversing, he’s looking in the mirror!”
Another kind of unpromising topic is one which is used simply to reinforce the speaker’s prejudices or deep-~seated bias.
As you can see, this question of what to talk about is not just a matter of avoiding trite subjects; it is a question of what we are talking for.. If we are talking only to exercise our mouth muscles and make a pleasant noise, that’s not conversation. If we want to verbalize our egotism, or tell the world how right we are to hate all foreigners or to despise a particular political party, that’s not conversation, either.
Conversation begins with our interest in people and in finding out more about the people we meet and the world we all live in. If the man who egotistically remarks that he wakes up without an alarm clock can be pulled into a conversation about how people can set “internal alarm clocks” and wake themselves up, and each speaker adds something that helps us to learn and to think about the powers we have in our unconscious selves, we have a splendid conversation. And if you can be brought, by social contact with others and by listening to their ideas and observations, to stretch your mind, to examine your ideas, and even, perhaps, to change and expand your ideas, you have taken part in a conversation of the highest possible order.
Conversation is the exchange of ideas. Into this statement I have packed the whole secret of the selection of topics. If you want to know what other people think and feel, if you want to exchange ideas, then almost any subject can be expanded into a conversation of general interest. A complaint about illness might lead to a discussion of medical science or insurance. A remark about the weather might lead to an exchange about the influence of climate on personality or about the space program.
If you want to learn more about what other people do and why they do it, if you want to know what they believe and why, then you will not be likely to throw out conversation stoppers; you’ll always look for ways to broaden a subject into an interesting exchange of ideas.
What about controversial subjects? Should we or should we not discuss racial issues, the UN, war and peace, Communism, or political candidates and issues? Should we avoid unpleasant or even tragic subjects? If we really want to know people, can we avoid those topics most loaded with emotion?
Here’s a question which requires all our tact . It is true that if conversation stays polite and airy and avoids all disagreements, it will become boring. It is also true that too much emotion turns conversation into a shouting match and results in hard feelings. We must steer between these two extremes.
The less well you know the people you are talking with, the more tactful you must be in feeling your way to a subject which will be meaningful but not objectionable. The very best conversations are the frankest, the ones in which everyone in the group really opens up and the speakers exchange ideas on matters which are most deeply and sincerely important to them. Such conversations must necessarily be rare, for people do not readily open their very hearts.
But it is still true that the best conversational subject for any particular group is that subject which draws people out, which most involves them, without upsetting them or making them react too emotionally. In any group finding this level of subject matter requires tact.
The best rule I can give you is to start with an interest in the other person, and to broaden the subject to something in which everyone can become involved. As you develop the ability to do this, finding the level of involvement in any group you happen to be in, people will find it increasingly pleasant and stimulating to converse with you.
EXAMPLES OF CONVERSATION
The principal of a large school definitely guides the conversation at the luncheon table by leading it into channels of general interest, encouraging the teachers to talk about things rather than people. He saves clippings and articles about subjects on which he knows certain teachers are particularly informed and draws the uninterested ones into the discussion. Art news, travel notes, or descriptions of unusual inventions are sometimes read aloud to stimulate conversation. This starts a worthwhile discussion. The teachers return to their afternoon routine refreshed and stimulated.
In a Family Hotel
John Brandon lived in a family hotel. He was one of a group of five men and one woman, Nell Adams, who dined at the same table.
For weeks during the football season conversation had been exclusively about sports. The season ended, and talk threatened to become even less interesting.
John was practicing conversational guidance from this book.. He estimated that dinner afforded about forty-five minutes to be used or wasted. The current talk, chiefly consisting of flippant personal remarks, was intended to impress Nell with the speakers’ cleverness. John decided to make an effort to bring the table talk to a higher level.
Next evening, before the general banter was well started, he turned to Nell Adams. “I had a remarkable experience last night. I spent a most unusual evening.”
“What in the world did you do?” Nell asked.
“I was invited to a home where the group was small enough to carry on an most interesting, enlightening conversation. We talked all night long about the world outlook for humanity.”
“Is that very unusual?” asked Ben.
“Well, I’ve been in this town six years, and this is the first time it’s ever happened to me. We really listened to one another . Not only did we refer to things, but we also had time to talk about them. That certainly was a surprise. I sure enjoyed it.”
“O’Hcnry liked little groups,” Arthur volunteered. “I believe he once told a friend that he never wanted to be anyplace where he had more than three faces to watch.”
“That’s an idea,” Tom broke in. “Do we watch faces when we are with people?”
“We do if we arc really interested in what they are saying,” John answered.
“Not always.” Ben disagreed. “Self-conscious people don’t like to look people in the eye, and I don’t think self-conscious people like to be watched.”
“But if they did watch, and did get more interested in other people and what they were saying, they wouldn’t be so self-conscious,” John insisted.
Jim didn’t agree with that statement, and explained why. The others entered eagerly into the discussion, which touched on self-confidence, courtesy, tolerance, and other traits of character.
At no time was there any unanimity of opinion, but all chatted in a friendly way. The conversation moved. As John Brandon afterwards stated, “I had no idea we could cover so much ground in forty-five minutes.”
A Weekend in the Mountains
All of you have had at least one experience, I know, of enjoying a conversation with a small group. Don’t you remember that weekend you spent with Marion and George in the mountains’? Of course, you enjoyed the horseback rides, swimming, and fishing, but what stands out most vividly in your memory? Wasn’t it that intimate. friendly conversation after the strenuous members of the party had gone to bed? A few of you sat around the fire and talked far into the morning.
You learned to know your friends that night. You can remember now how George looked when he told you he had always been interested in reform schools and prison conditions. Imagine! Just because he got into that scrape when he was a youngster, when he almost landed in jail. So that’s why he hangs around all the juvenile courts so much! Good old George!
And there was Bess, Marion’s unmarried sister. You knew she was a teacher of some kind. You had always thought her dull. You know now that she has ideas! Her eyes blazed when you said, “You botanists are all for labeling things. I like trees, and don’t think it makes any difference whether I know the genus or species.
“Genus or species!” Bess exploded. “If that’s what you think botany is, if that’s what you think we’re interested in, no wonder you don’t appreciate the scientific approach.”
Then she calmed down a little, and you gradually drew her out, you finally saw what her work meant to her. It was a great night!
Of course, our conversation wasn’t all heavy scientific talk. It wouldn’t be, with Bill around. After he got started, the rest of you seemed to remember the most ridiculous experiences you’d gone through. All these experiences, and even the way your friends told them, helped you to know those friends better.
Around the Fire
I remember a particularly enjoyable conversation one evening when we were all settled around a big, blazing fire. Someone mentioned how cold it was outside, but before anyone had a chance to emphasize this, Edith broke in: “I believe there’s an old gypsy superstition that if you turn your back and look at the fire through crossed sticks in a mirror, you’ll see your fate.”
“Heavens!” Veryl ejaculated. “I wouldn’t dare! I might draw Bill again!”
“I wish Bill could hear that,” Mabs laughed.
“Hear what?” Bill questioned, as he joined us.
“Something that would do you good, Bill,” Veryl explained. “Too much adoration is bad for any man’s liver.”
“I guess Bill is safe,” Ted consoled. “Don’t you know the gypsies told Veryl to marry Bill?”
“Good stuff!” Bill agreed. “They knew their job, those gypsies.”
After the bantering had died down, Edith said, “Jack told me only this morning that a few of those wanderers are camping right outside town. Isn’t it a pity that the old gypsy tribes and their lovely legends have died away?”
“Well, the tribes haven’t quite disappeared,” Jack explained. “But I guess we don’t hear much about their legends any more. I always thought the patrin was the most romantic thing about gypsies.”
“The patrin?” said Ted. “Wasn’t that the sign that the gypsies left to show what had worked with the residents they were begging from and the way they had gone?
“Yes. Some signs—flowers, cross, country, or something. I remember seeing them outside the main house on garage, barn, trees, toilet, etc. When I was a kid in Wisconsin.
“But just where do the gypsies get their custom of leaving a patrin behind them?” Mabs asked.
Somebody suggested that it was in Hungary in the sixteenth century. We discussed this for a while and then chatted about the gypsies and their ways of helping each other in this new country .
We had an unusually good time in front of the fire that night, all because someone had changed a dull subject of conversation into one full of life.
“Ragbag” Conversation: in the city One of my students reports the following example of “ragbag” conversation, which she purposely did not guide. Previous to this experience she had felt that guidance was unnecessary. She believed that any conversation, however trite, would inevitably drift to some subject worth discussing.
As the guests assembled on this particular evening, the conversation opened with a discussion of the weather.
“My dear, isn’t it cold?” said Mrs. Jones.
“Perfectly btiter!” Answered Mrs. Bristol.
“Terrible weather!” chimed in Mrs. Rivers.
“Of course, we usually do have a cold December,” contributed Mrs. Jones.
“Yes, but I think it wasn’t so cold last year, don’t you?”
“Well . . . I don’t know. But five years ago we certainly had the very coldest December I’ve ever known.”
Mrs. Jones politely disagreed, holding out for three years ago, while Mrs. Bristol was sure the coldest December was six years ago.
“I’ve had such a cold,” continued Mrs. Bristol.
“Lots of sickness going around now,” Mr. Rivers announced.
“Well, I’ve been lucky so far,” admitted Mrs. Jones, “though I have felt a cold coming on me these last few days.”
Instantly Mrs. Bristol and Mr. Rivers contributed their favorite remedies. Other guests gave their suggestions. The talk turned to illness in general. Someone was sure there was an epidemic of something or other. Cancer was the most popular topic . Each vied with the other in remembering specific cases and the pitiful results. “I knew a case that —--“ was scarcely finished when the next voice, with a little more authority, would break forth: “I knew a case - ----“ and so on and on.
For fully thirty minutes this subject was discussed, with only a morbid rehashing of distressing conditions and not one inquiry as to the possible cause or cure.
For a brief moment the subject jumped to football. This, being primarily a college sport, brought forth the inquiry, “And how is Lily getting along in school, Mrs. Jones?”
“Well, you know, Lily is really a bright girl, but I think her teachers don’t understand her. They give other children higher grades, and I just know those children aren’t half so bright as Lily.”
“Women teachers are usually unfair,” one disloyal mother interposed. “If men teachers taught Lily, she’d be at the head of her class.”
The mention of men teachers reminded someone of a lecture recently given before the PTA by a college professor. As it happened, the professor was a scientific- minded man, and his speeches always gave the audience something to think about. But the books he had discussed were not mentioned by this group. The ideas he had presented had made no impression. All these supposedly intelligent people were interested in comparing notes as to how well they had heard the speaker’s voice from where they had been sitting!
“I was in the last row and heard every word,” jubilantly boasted a young woman. This taunt was immediately answered by an older woman who said, “I sat under the balcony where it’s hard to hear anything, and I didn’t miss a syllable.”
“Mrs. Johnson was there,” volunteered someone.
“Have you seen her new home?” eagerly queried another.
“I don’t like the entrance,” contributed one of the men, “but in that part of the city it’s so cold and foggy that the Johnsons won’t be able to stand it long anyway.
That was a cue for a lengthy discussion about different climates in different parts of the city. The group had gotten back to the weather again. No residential section, it seemed, was really fit to live in at all seasons of the year.
The hostess at this moment suggested refreshments, which was the signal for such remarks as, “Eat again? I’m sure I’ve had my full amount of calories today.”
“Oh, are you dieting, Mrs. Bristol?”
“No, but I think we all cat too much, don’t you, Mr. Rivers?”
Mr. Rivers puffingly declared that he had been telling his wife that very morning that they certainly ate too much.
In spite of the agreement of the group, all repaired to the dining room and ate heartily. Mingled with such pleasantries as, “Yes, I will take another sandwich, Mrs. James. They’re so good,” or, “Did you make this marmalade yourself, Aggie? I certainly must get the recipe,” Mr. Rivers’ rumbling voice could be heard murmuring contentedly, “Yes, we certainly do eat too much.”
“Ragbag” Conversation: In the country Another student of mine recently spent a month in a small town. While there she stayed at a boardinghouse. She attended the country dances, the church socials the bazaars given by the various lodges, and a few club dinners . In every group, she insists, the same topics were discussed.
The chief topic was the heat. “It’s very warm for this time of year” was usually the opening gun fired. This was followed by a volley of reports of the degrees that had been registered at certain hours.
“I looked at the thermometer in Gray’s drugstore at ten o’clock, and it showed 83 degrees.”
“I saw it at eleven, and the temperature was 87.”
At one-thirty, at three, at five-twenty, temperatures had been noted at various locations in the town and carefully recorded.
When the full report of the heat was in, the discussion turned to the consideration
of a site for a new swimming pool.
“The north side of town gets mighty cool when there isn’t any sun,” said one of
“The south side gets pretty hot when there is sun,” said another.
This was the crux of the debate which, at the end of a month, continued to be as
heated and pointless as ever.
The next important subject was the shooting of dogs. “Well,” someone would remark, “Jake Weatherby’s old hound was shot today.”
“Humph! That makes four dogs this week.”
“You can’t tell me it’s not John Moore who’s shooting them.”
“Wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it was.”
And there the subject was dropped. Nothing was said about why John Moore shot dogs, why the dogs called forth his anger, or what steps were being taken to prevent a recurrence of the shooting.
No evening was complete without remarks about absent neighbors. “Mrs. Brown has had a tar roof put on her house,” someone would begin.
“She might do better to mend her fence,” another would volunteer. One after >another the weak spots in each character, as well as in each fence, were held up for scorn or ridicule.
The final bit that closed the evening festivities was the discussion of the demonstration of some new aluminum pans in the general-store window on Main Street. The women were attracted by the shiny utensils. The men pooh-poohed the idea of having a girl, all dressed up, showing the saucepans to a crowd of curious onlookers.
These people had lost their sense of values . Anything new, regardless of its commonplaceness, was more interesting than objects or scenes of beauty to which their senses had become dulled. And so the evenings went by, the whole month long, without anyone’s expressing one really imaginative idea about anything that mattered.
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993