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January 26, 2010

Hawthorn Hill: Prefers listening over talking

It is no secret to my closest friends that I am not much of a conversationalist. Perhaps I am a reaction to a mother who loved conversation and ranked it right up there with other forms of expression that she revered: theater and art. Ironically, so long as I can stay awake, and no matter how vibrant any conversation might be, my preference has always been for listening.

The only conversation arena that appeals to me is the classroom, a place where for thirty years I encouraged discussion for the sole purpose of developing critical thinking and reading skills.

Get me out of the classroom and my conversation skills disappear. Who knows why? I have always been comfortable in my own skin and have never needed thought to be fueled by talk.

I enjoy writing because I can communicate with others without the immediate give and take of conversation. Of course, writing requires a conversation with the self that emerges as black letters on a page.

My most prized form of conversation is either with my inner voice, which does not hesitate to put me in my place when I get a bit high minded, even unintentionally disingenuous, or a private chat with a close friend. Lively conversations do energize me from time to time, but they are as rare as the chance appearance of a sand hill crane in my neighbor’s pasture.

I have been thinking a lot about communication since reading this passage in Reinhold Niebuhr’s book ``The Irony of American History’’:

``The inventions of writing and printing represent two of the most important chapters in the history of culture. But the further elaboration of communications in the arts of mass communication have led to the vulgarization of culture as well as to the dissemination of its richest prizes among the general public.’’ We hear a lot about twittering and tweeting these days. Curmudgeon that I am, I will never be caught either twittering or tweeting.

Actually, as a birder I will tweet once in a while to cajole a bird out of hiding, but that is as far as it goes.

Young people especially seem to be drawn to instant messaging, as if waiting were some sort of spiritual sin.

I have never quite figured out what all the hurry was about anyway. Most of the public chatter that I hear these days is utterly useless, insignificant, and often quite inane. We rightly lament the loss of those cultural practices.