Drawing on Letter 38 from Seneca (‘On Quiet Conversation’), this episode digs into the immense value of real, face-to-face conversation for all aspects of our lives. Emails and texts can be great, but sitting down in person changes the game, whether it’s a massive business deal, or a chance to (re)connect with another person.
It’s almost a meditative thing to have a conversation because, unless you’re stuck in your head for some reason, it is a mindful exercise. You are in the moment.
And being in the moment means not just waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can start throwing your opinions around – that’s not only bad manners, but is highly unlikely to convince anyone that what you say is worth listening to. As Seneca neatly puts it,
Philosophy is good advice, and no one can give advice at the top of his lungs.
It seems to be a human universal that we just can’t stand being preached down to. Even if the information is good and we might actually agree with the content, if it’s delivered in a condescending tone or hurled at us aggressively, we’ll resist out of principle. So if we want to win someone over to our cause or point of view, we’re going to have to practise that subtle art of conversation.
In fact, for Seneca, the only time to use the aggressive mode is when you’re trying to get someone to want to learn and listen. That’s a handy tool, but one to be used with caution, as we explore in the episode.
Still, Andrea’s not so sure there isn’t some satisfaction to be gained by forcing the issue:
If it’s one of those ‘take the horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’ [situations], and out of belligerent stubbornness you eventually drown the horse in the water…When I get to those moments I do feel some satisfaction, even though the point’s been lost and nothing’s been achieved!
Drowned horses aside, we go on to explore how science is more an attitude than a practice and how it can serve us in every part of our lives. Curiosity is the fertile ground we need to cultivate if we truly want anything to grow there. But the same is true for the people around us – we can’t hope to grow new ideas in minds that simply aren’t ready or willing to receive them (yet).
And fertile requires sensitivity and connection:
An idea doesn’t have value by itself. It requires context. It requires connection with other people…
One way to address that issue is to try for the minimum effective dose of communication – don’t bluster away boring people to tears, but try to find a point of connection as simply as possible.
What is art and communication all about, really? Jon’s got a theory that much of our life is driven by the search for a ‘soul echo’ – to hear something of our deep, personal experience echoed back to us, so we know we’re not isolated, separate, or uniquely alone.
And along with these deeper bouts of philosophical thinking, this episode Andrea threatens to shit in your mouth, we try to plant an oak tree in your head, and Jon realises he might be the hapless ‘everyman’ character in this podcast.
- The importance of toilet humour
- How to forget someone’s name with style
- Casting spells with language
- Why tickling and being profound are basically the same thing
- Tales of racist grandmothers!
Find Out More:
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- The full text for free on WikiSource
- Our popular and provocative episode on why ‘Nice Guys’ really aren’t nice
- The Michel Thomas Method for language learning
- Don Miguel Ruíz’s book, The Four Agreements