Category Archives: Quotes

Good Conversation

How interesting to contemplate the varied channels which an idea can follow as it wends its way from mind to mind! Cicero, from his refuge in ancient Rome, speaks clearly, his experience as an orator causing his voice to easily pierce the mists of time. A journalist writing for the Economist summarizes Cicero’s orotund statements and writes his version for the magazine in 2006. The Financial Times this morning prints an article which quotes the journalist’s article, six years later. A blogger in Arizona reads the article and deftly guts it, presenting a key paragraph containing the quote right here for your delectation:

What makes a good conversationalist has changed little over the years. The basics remain the same as when Cicero became the first scholar to write down some rules, which were summarised in 2006 by The Economist: “Speak clearly; speak easily but not too much, especially when others want their turn; do not interrupt; be courteous; deal seriously with serious matters and gracefully with lighter ones; never criticise people behind their backs; stick to subjects of general interest; do not talk about yourself; and, above all, never lose your temper.” But Cicero was lucky: he never went on a first date with someone more interested in their iPhone than his company.

An aside: when I pasted the above paragraph into the draft of this post some unwanted baggage came with it. Evidently the web version of the Financial Times was troubled by my pilferage and an extra paragraph was pasted, a warning and admonition which I promptly deleted. The FT discouraged me from copying and pasting text from the article, fervently wishing that I would link to the article instead. Hah! Try and stop me from the use of fair quotes! But I relent a bit and just below I’ve included the link, which I was planning to include anyway:

How to have a conversation

Succinct and serviceable principles indeed that the ancient Roman has compiled. “Speak easily but not too much, especially when others want their turn” is in my opinion the key piece of advice in the series. How many times have I listened to too-detailed explanations exuded by knowledgeable folks who, to my chagrin, have turned out to be bores? I use these lamentable occasions as reminders, as it is all too easy to think the rest of the world shares your interest in hobby-horse minutiae.

A better, more humane approach is to briefly mention subjects dear to your heart, keeping your conversational antennae alert to signs of further interest. If none are forthcoming you can sigh inaudibly and allow the subject to join the verbal detritus on the floor, fragments of conversations which will be swept up in the pre-dawn hours by a weary host and set out in sacks at the curb — everyone knows indigent writers prowl the sidewalks for those fragments and eagerly make use of them, perhaps as text on ephemeral signage or blurbs in advertising broadsheets.

But I’ve strayed from my usual subjects! I’m behind in my blogging — photos of the Arizona landscape and close-up shots of native vegetation clog my laptop’s hard drive. Stay tuned!



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Filed under Essays and Articles, Quotes