On Conversation

“Over a year ago, when I was living in Wales, a friend of mine from San Francisco, attending a conference in Liverpool, came by to visit. By chance, no one was at home but me, the rest of my family away on vacation in Italy, and no one else ‘dropped in’, and the phone never rang. He was not ‘running late’ or ‘swinging by’ on his way to somewhere else. Andrew looks people steadily in the eye, smiles rarely and appropriately, and calmly and soberly speaks the truth as he understands it…

He listened attentively, maintaining eye contact. No ‘games’ were played and there was no ‘small talk’. No subject was introduced in order to ‘keep the conversation going’. He remembered what had been said, and was conscious of the quality of his experience. His attention span began to flicker, like mine, only with physical exhaustion, at which point the dialogue was steered to a conclusion with respect for whatever priorities had been established, and with courtesy. He understood verbal decorum and knew that the art of conversation was … an access to a reality worthy and demanding of our assertion, significant in our lives, and immediately present. We had spoken frankly and thoughtfully about important things, or the important implications in mundane things, and had often laughed with delight. The whole thing was a joy. I had one other evening like this one about a month later, with a younger man whose purity of heart, genuine Christian intelligence and eager intuition of depth and truth were sufficient to the demands of such encounters. Since then, I haven’t had such a conversation again. Snatches, approximations, for I know many fine people; but always ‘squeezed in’, or circumspect, or abruptly shattered b an interruption, or fading out at the reaching of an inner limit of endurance…

The physical, social and psychological settings in which truth may be respectfully petitioned, gravely uttered and humbly acknowledged are disappearing. The corresponding mental and verbal prerequisites are also disappearing. A human type is disappearing. This is happening primarily because the belief that there is such a thing as truth is disappearing, which causes those who still believe in it to seem presumptuous, tasteless or naive. And also threatening. Threatening, because they force upon others an embarrassing suspicion, which is also an authentic perception, of inner emptiness or triviality of character. The scene becomes very rapidly awkward or tense, sensibilities have been tactlessly offended; the superficial mechanical equilibrium of social convention has been disturbed and must be restored, either by ‘poking fun’ or ‘changing the subject’ or any of countless conversational stratagems and maneuvers. Although chances are that nothing will need to be done consciously, or even unconsciously, because the situation will take care of itself. The phone will ring, someone will enter or leave the room, someone will turn on the television set or tape or a blender, some food or drink will now be ready or require replenishing, something or other will need to be attended to: there will be an interruption or distraction. And anyway, with attention spans dwindling literally to matters of seconds, and as the settings in which the exercise of longer attention spans is encouraged are vanishing, the serious communal contemplation of anything whatsoever for more than the briefest interlude is automatically stifled. Our thinking and talking are no longer able to persevere long enough to be equal to the understanding of what we are thinking and talking about … That depth at which truth may be experienced, not as a ‘fact’ but as a state of fulfillment or equivalence, in which we recall, with gratitude and humility, our true stature as human, is never even approached. Even simple sincerity can only be tolerated for a brief time before it must be neutralized by joviality, or a return to those practical considerations which alone are deemed serious. The speed-up of time in … [our age] … provides a partial explanation here. But fear of depth and authenticity, fear of anything that might threaten the facade of ‘normal’ interpretation and ‘normal’ response, and thereby expose our servitude, which cannot really be helpless, to the social conventions that ‘shield’ us from the truth, also plays a role.

I have been speaking here of the disappearance of what might be called ‘the truth-speaking voice’, the voice that speaks with dignity about genuinely serious matters and is heard with respect, as well as the social and psychological settings in which that voice is invoked, from our personal lives, where it would have had its best chance to survive. That such a voice or sensibility does not and cannot exist in public life scarcely needs to be argued. [This] … as I have suggested, is the Age of Universal Bullshit.”

– Marty Glass in Yuga, An Anatomy of Our Fate: A Companion to Spiritual Practice, pp. 47-49.

He smiled, underlined those lines, and felt relieved that someone else too, felt this way. It happens all the time. 

~ by tdcatss on January 18, 2015.

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