I’m in college now, and I’m being introduced to new ideas. One of them is the idea of conversation vs. talking.
You see, we had to read the first chapter of some book by a guy named Zeldin. He seems like a well-learned man who has clearly studied the act of conversation throughout the ages. He talks about the different ways that people have conversed throughout history. In one instance, it is mentioned how the scientific movement brought a desire among people for clarity and truthfulness in conversation above all else, rejecting rhetoric and hype for “plain talk”.
“Speaking and writing clearly, without frills, forced people to develop a more scientific attitude, to abandon magic and superstition. And also people began to criticize rhetoric as anti-democratic: snobbish, deliberately obscure, repressive of real feelings. They equated it with the cult of the genteel, the desire to be superior. Plain talk triumphed in the United States in the nineteenth century, forcing the pretentious to stop tyrannizing others with the etiquette or affectation. But plain talk sometimes degenerated into a rejection of standards and an admiration for the speech of the uneducated. It became even more obscure than rhetoric (“obscure” here means “not expressing meaning clearly or plainly. I thought that particular definition and usage was kind of obscure). In the same way, scientific clarity was carried so far that it became jargon, comprehensible only to the initiated.”
More on all this later. We talked in our class about the difference between conversing with and talking at. Mainly, it’s like this: Talking is trading facts with someone. Conversing involves both listening and talking, transcending a mere exchange of information. For instance, if someone were grieving, and I had an inspirational quote I thought would comfort them, conversing with that person would dictate that I let their comfort be the greatest goal, and if the quote seemed like it would be of no use, I should drop it. Talking at that person means that I give them the quote whether they like it or not.
The problem is, the difference is subtle. Our professor even slipped up a view times (like, “split into your pods and ta….converse with one another about these points). This got me thinking: Zeldin decries jargon in his book; he speaks against words that have only have specific meaning in a specific group. Had he just created some of his own?
….and should I bring this up to the professor?
I asked her. She said roughly this:
(after a thoughtful pause)
I think that when Zeldin says “jargon” what he means is one of two things. He either means words that have no meaning, like cliches, or words that alienate other people. One thing I like to look at is “conversing WITH” vs. “talking AT”.
(here she underlined those words on the board)
She continued speaking, and I really learned something. What I learned tonight might be something you knew already; you might be like, “Well, duh,” but to me it was something new and really cool.
In that classroom, talking and conversation mean two different things. And for the sake of clarity, that’s an okay standard when within those schoolroom walls. The only other option would be to use words from another language or words, or to make up new words entirely. Both would have been inefficient; if we were Latin scholars or Dr. Seuss it would be another thing entirely.
The problem, the snobbery, the jargon comes when we enforce classroom standards of speech outside of the classroom. If a bro from my dorm came to me and said,
“I was just talking to my girlfriend,” the right response would not be,
“Well I hope not! I hope you were conversing with her!”
It’s just as ridiculous as calling a line to the bathroom a line segment, or insisting that a field of corn isn’t really a field in the mathematical sense.
I think Christians especially need to be mindful of this. We have lots of words that mean certain things in certain contexts. Such things lead to frustrating conversation.
I have an uncle who loves theology. He just really loves to read theological literature. And I mean, hey, who doesn’t? The real teeth-grinding comes when his theological words come into daily conversation.
Do you want some Gatorade?
No, thanks. I’m good.
Only God is good.
I mean, they weren’t bad people…
We’re all bad people.
It’s foolish to impose those standards on others, especially non-believers. Don’t get at what they say, try to understand what they mean. As a verbal communicator and someone who’s notoriously bad at gleaning meaning from things that aren’t said outright, this is something I need to be mindful of. Words clearly express ideas, but God didn’t come as an idea. He came as a person. Further, he didn’t come to save ideas. He came to save people. How often am I truly relating to people when I talk to them? More often, I think I’m just reacting to their words and replying with some of my own, like it’s some kind of game.
But the greatest thing that happened today was this: I had a conversation with my professor. How neat is that?