The Crucial Social Role Of Conversation
by Philip Atkinson
An Explanation Why The Ancient Greeks Were So Clever
To explain why ancient Greeks were so clever that they 'showed for the first time what the human mind was for'. H.D.F Kitto states:
"the Greek, whether in town or village, was able to sharpen his wits and improve his manners through constant intercourse with his fellows. Few people have been so completely sociable. Talk was the
breath of life to the Greek"—'The Greeks' chapter 3, page 36, published by Penguin 1979
Conversation is the casual exchange of opinions that occurs as part of daily life. This exchange is crucial not only to the community but to the individual. These communications not only mould communal but also individual understanding. It is not just the apparatus of the community that receives its direction from these transactions, but the individual. By communicating an individual (and a community):
|1.||Discovers Reality: In various different small ways we:
|i.||Confirm Our Identity: Our image of ourselves is revealed by the opinion of others. We discover how our looks and ability are rated; are we ugly or attractive? Clever or stupid? Strong or weak?|
|ii.||Validate Our Senses: The impression of our senses is confirmed or corrected by the responses of others, who reveal if it was a mirage, an invention of a fevered imagination, or actually occurred. Was there a naked woman, or was it an illusion? Has that man actually stabbed someone, or was it a gesture made with a toy? Did the ground shake, or is my sense of balance disturbed? Is it hot, or am I sick? The responses of others help us determine the truth.|
|i.||Expressing an opinion forces the author to clarify what they are thinking; an effort that often exposes short-comings in the original impression. The task of explaining a problem to an audience can discover the cause or solution, as well as confirm the significance of the problem, without having to hear any response.|
|ii.||Heeding an opinion confirms, corrects or challenges those already held, with the last forcing a reconsideration that may discover errors or uncertainties.|
|3.||Strengthens Understanding: The more often we communicate, the more often we have to discipline and arrange our thoughts, and vice-versa. The example of Alexander Selkirk reported by Woodes Rogers in A Cruising Voyage (1712) reveals that conversation is like any other skill, if it is not practised it wanes. For when Alexander Selkirk was rescued from a deserted island:
"At his coming on board us, he had so much forgot his language for want of use, that we could scarce understand him, for he seem'd to speak his words by halves."
People who stop using words lose the ability to speak in words, and as words are understanding, this suggests our ability to think clearly needs exercise through communicating with others, otherwise it atrophies.
Impact of restraint on conversation
The free exchange of opinions is clearly essential for the creation and maintenance of sane, clear thinking individuals, and thus sane, clear thinking communities. While some inhibition upon expression is necessary for keeping order, these limits must be kept to a minimum and be decided by common law. Once censorship is imposed by any other mechanism it threatens the sanity of the community. Arbitrary and irrational limitations such as those demanded by the proponents of Political Correctness can only result in the creation of a demented community; a society whose thinking is crippled by threat or violence.