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Take time to talk; the lost art of conversation

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 9:04 p.m.

Conversation is an art, but sometimes, I fear that it may be a lost art.

I can't claim to have ever been all that artistic at it, and it seems these days, there is little opportunity to practice the kind of conversation to which I refer.

Even the pros on TV's so-called talk shows seem to rush whatever the conversation might be and every participant is going for the best “sound bite.” Ouch.

I have had what were, for me, some good conversations in my life, but I have to say that most of them were when I was in my 20s with coworkers in my fledgling years in this newspaper business, or even earlier, when I was in college.

College years provide the ground for good conversations, because, at that point in our lives, we are exploring and hoping to be educated. We knew— mistakenly most likely — everything there was to know about the folks we had just spent 12 years of elementary and high school with, so in college we were alert to find out what others of our age were all about. There had to be mysteries out there.

We were, to put it simply, much like sponges hoping to soak up every bit of life that was on offer. (Note: That's a key to good conversation.)

I remember one college-days conversation more for its impact it made on me than for exactly what was said.

The long, slow talk was with my friend Wayne, a fellow student in theater arts at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. We were sitting at a Formica table in a nearby lunch place and were discussing violence, in general, and how its appearance on TV and film had negatively affected our society. Ah, to be a freshman again!

Indeed, it was a pretty lofty subject for two college newcomers, but one that I relished discussing. Wayne had grown up on the North Side of Pittsburgh, attended Perry High, where he played football and had been stationed with the Army in Germany. I had not left the Pittsburgh area for any length of time so I didn't bring much experience to the dialogue.

His point in our talk — simply put — was that violence on TV or the big screen was detrimental to our society, promoting more violence. I argued I had seen a lot of violence on TV and film, and did not think it had affected me.

And, he just matter-of-factly said that it was because of my upbringing. He had insight, he knew.

The point may seem minor, but, at the time, it touched me deeply. There I was, 19 years old, and it was the first time I had considered what seemed to me a profound truth in my life. And, I was learning not to judge everyone by the same yardstick. I was seeing how to be objective; a good lesson for a would-be actor, and a lesson that was to benefit me in this business.

Such conversations have no conclusions, yet they move you to a different place. That one did for me.

I like discussing philosophy, but get little opportunity these day; perhaps, some people feel it requires a more learned approach, but aren't we all entitled to discuss philosophy, our theories of life inasmuch as we all are alive?

In my early reporting years, I was caught up reading the work of existentialist writers, such as Jean-Paul Satre, and his view of the absurdity of things interested me. I had a long rambling talk about it with a co-worker and a first-time visitor to the area who accompanied us while we sat having drinks and listening to jazz in a Pittsburgh night club. I was still young enough to want to sound wise; now I am old enough not to try. But, I must have made some sort of impact on the guy because a year or so afterward, he called me from jail in some city (having had an operator track down my number). He asked me whether I remembered him (I did), and if I had any advice for him. He just wanted to talk; or, maybe, he was just looking for someone to make his bail.

We have all sorts of conversations in our lives, from quick talks with a clerk at a checkout to deeper talks with dear family or friends. The late writer Kurt Vonnegut used to talk about how he liked to leave his New York City home and trek several blocks to the post office. His wife pointed out he could get his stamps without leaving home, but he said he would miss his talks with the window clerk at the P.O.

For me, the best conversations are those deep and rambling talks that follow dinner or sharing late-evening drinks or in the morning over coffee when there is no hurry to get anywhere or do anything else.

Those sessions are hard to come by. I haven't had one in a while.

So, I read.

Another late, great writer, C.S. Lewis is quoted as having said: “We read to know we are not alone.”

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to

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