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Good Conversation

Good conversation is the nimbleness of mind to take the chance word or the accidental subject and play upon it, and make it pass from guest to guest at dinner or in the drawing-room. It is the discussion of any topic whatever, from religion to the fashions, and the avoidance of any phase of any subject which might stir the irascible talker to controversy.

As exprest by Cowper in his essay, "Conversation":

"Ye powers who rule the tongue, if such there are,
And make colloquial happiness your care,
Preserve me from the thing I dread and hate—
A duel in the form of a debate."

Wearing one's heart on one's sleeve is good for one conversationally. Ready conversers are people who give their thought to others in abundance; who make others feel a familiar heartbeat. No one can approach so near to us as the sincere talker, with his sympathy and his willing utterances. Luther, who stands out as one of the giants of the Renaissance, came into close human touch with his friends in talk; in conversation with him they could always feel his fierce and steady pulse.

Another element of successful conversation is good-humored tolerance, the willingness to bear rubs unavoidably occasioned. The talker who raise trivial objections or criticise for petty reasons at anything that is said stops conversation more than if he answered only yes or no to all remarks addrest to him. Still another element of good conversation is the right sort of gossip; gossip which is contemporary and past history of people we know and of people we don't know; gossip which is in no way a temptation to detract.

A good-natured ridicule may also become a legitimate part of good conversation, if the ridicule is like a good parody of good literature—in no way malignant or commonplace. A joke or a short story with a light ironic depiction of a situation communicated with the intent of being humorous,if nicely adjusted to the conversational conditions, may have its rightful share in interesting talk. Friends often meet together just to talk things over, to get each other's point of view, to hear each other tell of his own affairs, of his work and of his progress. "Small" talk was sometimes the essence of those famous conversations of the modern coffee-house. Anecdotes are a natural part of conversation, but they become the bane of talk unless kept in strict restraint.

There are times when good conversation is momentary silence rather than speech. It is only the haranguers who feel it their duty to break in with idle and insincere chatter upon a pleasant and natural pause. A part of the good fellowship of acceptable conversation is what one might call "interest questions." "Interest questions" are just what the words imply, and have about them no suspicion of the inquisitive and impertinent catechizing which only fools, and not even false, dishonest, or deceitful people indulge in.

The negative phase of conversation may largely grow out of a discussion of the positive. By discovering what conversation is, we find, in a measure, what it is not.

CONVERSATION IS NOT:

Conversation is not monolog nor monopolizing;
It is not lecturing nor haranguing;
Conversation is not detracting gossip;
It is not ill-timed "small" talk;
Conversation is not controversy nor debate;
It is not stringing anecdotes together;
Conversation; is not inquisitive nor impertinentquestioning;
It is not cross-examining nor bullying;

There are still other things which conversation is not: it is not over-emphatic, nor is it too insistent, nor doggedly domineering, talk. Nor is good conversation grumbling talk. No one can play to advantage the conversational game of toss and catch with a partner who is continually pelting him with grievances. It is out of the question to expect everybody, whether stranger or intimate, to choke in congenial sympathy with petty woes. The trivial and perverse annoyances of one's own life are compensating subjects for conversation only when they lead to a discussion of the phase of character or the fling of fate on which such-and-such incidents throw light, because the trend of the thought then encourages a tossing back of ideas.

Perhaps the most important thing which good conversation is not, is this: It is not talking for effect, or hedging. There are two kinds of hedging in conversation: one which comes from failing to follow the trend of the discussion; another which is the result of talking at random merely to make bulk. The first is tolerable; the last is contemptible. The moment one begins to talk for effect, or to hedge disrespectfuly,lacking in seriousness, or speaking without knowledge or consideration, he is talking insincerely. And when a good converser runs against this sort of talker, his heart calls out, for an empty room, his tobacco, or his drink. It is maintained by some one that there are three kinds of a bore: the person who tells the plot of a play, the one who tells the story of a novel, and the one who tells his dreams. This may be going too far with regard to dreams; for dreams, if handled in the right way, are easily made a part of interesting talk. But in sophisticated society books and plays are discust only by talking about the prevailing idea round which the story centers. They are criticized, not outlined. The most learned and cultivated talkers do not attempt the difficult and unrewarded feat of giving a concise summary of plots.

Good conversation, then, is the give and take of talk. A person who converses well also listens well. The one is inseparable from the other. Anything can be talked about in cultivated society provided the subjects are handled with humanity and discrimination. Even the weather and the three dreadful D's of conversation, Dress, Disease, and Domestics, may be made an acceptable part of talk if suited to the time, the place, and the situation. Nor is genius or education essential to good conversation.

The qualities most needed for good conversation are tact, a sincere desire to please, and an appreciation of the truth that the man who never says a foolish thing in conversation will never say a wise one.

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