The Art of Conversation

Do you find yourself chatting to people less and less? I know for a fact, that a decade ago, I used to spend more time talking to people. Now, I think, I talk more to myself than to others. Maybe it’s work, maybe it’s parenthood, maybe it plain old getting old: I feel like I’m always either in front of a laptop typing away, or behind a steering wheel, driving away.

Conversation – of the philosophical kind – is hard to come by these days. Life is so ‘Go! Go! Go!’ that many a weekday, the only conversations I have with my nearest and dearest are about the day’s errands and tasks. “I’m rushing there, then I do that, and work on that”, is a summary of the sentences I utter from Monday to Friday.

These are the conversations we have in 2016: we tell each other what we’re going through in bullet form, and that’s it. The spare time in between, I find myself checking out social media, telling myself that I need to know what is happening around me. The truth is that I’ll yet again have my head immersed in a screen, blocking off any potential, real life conversation with real people who talk back and not type back.

I worry, therefore that I am – we are – losing the art of conversation. Do we sit down in the evenings to chat? Do we exchange reflections on life and death; on happiness, wealth and sorrows? Do we philosophise and plan the future in fiction-like plots? Are we still curious about the world? And about other people’s ideas? Do we speak about our anxieties and fears? Do we listen to other people’s anxieties and fears? Not enough.

It’s not just happening to us, but to the rest of the western world. In the UK, for example the growing popularity of the School of Life, is fascinating. From its tiny headquarters in London, the School of Life organises workshops and classes aimed at developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture. Together curious, sociable and open-minded people chat about issues such as how to master the art of relationships, how to achieve calm and how better to understand the world – all while discussing philosophy, literature, psychology, visual arts, in an atmosphere of exploration and enjoyment.

I was not at the School of Life in London last Saturday. But it certainly felt like I was. Merlin publishers and Palazzo Falson, joined forced and organised their first literary salon, on the roof top of the historic museum in Mdina. It was all very intimate, setup in an informal café, with a very select guest list – all of them having books and knowledge at heart. The salon was called ‘About time’ and we discussed everything from water clocks, to emotions to fairytales and time travelling. Let’s face it, it’s not every day that while rushing in to the school gate, or while on your threadmill at the gym, you can have a chat with someone about time in literature.

Merlin Publishers and Palazzo Falson have created a much needed platform for people who crave conversation. The speakers – Prof Simon Attard Montalto, Judge Giovanni Bonello, authors Loranne Vella and John Bonello and lecturer Dr Giuliana Fenech, all imparted their witty and insightful anecdotes, and so did the guests. I sat there wanting to talk and say my bit, but at the same time, not wanting to: because listening was making my mind expand with the absorption of knowledge, which happily I was not getting by looking at a screen.

There will be more of these salons, of that I am sure. Who will be the speakers? Who will be invited? What will we talk about? Ah, that I cannot say. But there’s exciting times ahead, that’s sure.

As a favourite author of mine Tom Hodgkinson once wrote: “Talking, sharing ideas and stories with friends old and new, this is the lifeblood of he who enjoys the earthly pleasures.”