Monday, June 28, 2010


The Rosthern Junior College class of ‘60 reunited on Saturday; the decade grads do this every year as a part of the RJC graduation weekend. We talked . . . a lot. Since we are all now 67 years old and more, we noted how our conversations have changed since we last met ten years earlier. Grandchildren and Coping--mainly with a variety of the illnesses of aging--seemed to predominate, with retirement issues a close third.

Later in the day, smaller groups formed and in my case, talked a bit of spirituality, philosophical viewpoints that they’d developed since the end of high school shenanigans and more of the relevant events recalled by people whose lives had already been “mostly-lived.”

In retrospect, the potpourri of dialogue topics reminded me of an adage I’d come across years ago. It says--as closely as I can recall--that there are three levels of conversation. In ascending order, they are about things, people and ideas. Putting aside the apparent snobbery of saying that “ideas” constitute the loftiest plane for the moment, it is nevertheless apparent that our conversations can reasonably be characterized in this way. Although our “conversation” is obviously more than just “talk” (it includes handshakes, embraces, gestures, silences after speech, etc., etc.), here’s my attempt at redoing the adage--in no particular order:

1) Managing the practical conversation: Dialogue about whether RRSP’s are better than tax-free savings accounts, or best ways to deal with crab grass fall into this category, probably our most ubiquitous stream of talking.

2) News and views about people--coffee-row chatter.

a) Gossip: Satisfying a prurient interest in the failures of others in order to make our own seem less disappointing.

b) Spreading community news: a necessary activity if we’re to function as true communities.

3) Confessional dialogue: “Baring our souls” in the search for comforting, healing, forgiveness and restoration.

4) Philosophical conversation: Comparing our personal takes on the questions and answers that fall into the realm of the presently-unknowable, like whether or not time-travel could be possible given what we know about the mechanics of the universe, or whether or not sex is really the motivator for everything we do.

5) Didactic and Religious dialogue: Exchanges primarily geared toward preserving the cultural and religious understandings passed down from generation to generation. Sunday school teachers’ Q and As and most of our education fall into this category, as may sermons or less-formal conversations about the meaning of a scripture passage or the superiority of a certain political system.

6) Assault dialogue: The verbal equivalent of a fist fight or a beating.

7) Spiritual conversation: Prayer, meditation, our conversation with our creator however we experience that. Great music may actually qualify as a spiritual conversation, as might the sweat lodge and sweet grass ceremonies, the Lord’s Supper and the hymn before a potluck.

8) Casual conversation: Dialogue meant primarily to mask the awkwardness of prolonged silence in a group. We ask questions even though we’re not much interested in the answers.

9) Recreational conversation: Meant primarily to entertain, it’s the exchange, for instance, between a stand-up comic and her audience, the storyteller and his listener, the joke teller and the knee-slappers.

10) Sleight of hand conversation: Talk designed to manipulate others into taking actions advantageous to the instigator of the dialogue. Sales people and fraudsters excel in this. Propaganda.

Reunions don’t allow for much prolonged or “deep” conversation, assuming, of course, that some dialogue is “deeper” than others. I think we have an intuition, though, about whether or not a conversation we’ve just had was significant or not. Many of our conversations in the short time we had together may not have been “deep,” but they felt extremely significant, given that we all shared a starting point in lives that once stretched out before us with unlimited possibilities. As graduation added the “end parenthesis” to high school, our reunion seemed to put the close-quote on another phase.

I wonder what we’ll be talking about in ten years.

An aside comes to mind. Are we good conversationalists? Can we express ourselves precisely and fluently, and do we listen attentively and actively? I’ve heard complaints that this ability is not taught well and so isn’t learned, and that the art of skilled conversation is disappearing. That would be a tragedy, I think, if it’s true. But that’s a topic for another day.

And if we talked about that, at what plane would we be conversing?



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