Enough studying

Experimenting, observing, and reflecting on your conversations

I believe we must move beyond studying, into active practice.

Every time I think perhaps I should begin to work on a book about conversation, I find another book. I’m always waffling between being convinced that I do have something original to contribute, and being convinced that I’ve yet learned little. That’s a sure sign that I’m studying something which is a mastery practice. The more one learns about it, the more one sees endless possibilities for future study.

And, there are always more books. Most recently, I’ve found a pleasant treatise by Milton Wright, who gets right to the same idea in the short preface.

Some men who were great philosophers and some who were master writers have discussed the technique of conversation. The things that have been said by Bacon, Addison, Johnson, Franklin, Chesterfield, Hazlitt, Stevenson, Mahaffy, and a host of others have been words of wisdom; probably there is not a single sound principle in the art that one or more of them has not acclaimed. The things they wrote, however, were largely in the nature of essays in praise of good conversation, and, although they were lavish with suggestions as to what sort of thing to say and in warnings as to the things to avoid saying, the reader has been amply justified in demanding, “For instance?”

~ Milton Wright from, The Art of Conversation c1936

Later in the book, he mentions that conversation can simply be a fine art for fine art’s sake. Considering my conversations to be art produced primarily for beauty rather than utility, only serves to make my above-mentioned waffling worse.

Does one learn something about creating better conversations by solely studying conversation (for example, by reading books)? Certainly some knowledge is gained, but there’s a diminishing return on time spent just reading. I believe we must move beyond studying (in the academic sense) into active practice. And not just haphazard practice, but rather one must intentionally experiment, observe, and reflect.

Are you experimenting, observing, and reflecting on your conversations?


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