I have a friend who can talk endlessly for hours and hours. She literally never gets tired of talking. It freaks me out a little to be honest (and yes, it is tiring at times.) Sometimes I wonder what her endurance limit for talking is, or if she even has one. I’m afraid to find out. I wonder if someone didn’t stop her, as they invariably do, if she would ever stop talking.
Don’t get me wrong. I can talk, too. When I’m on a roll, it could take an act of God to shut me up. As I get older, though, I do find myself growing weary of talking more quickly than I did when I was in my twenties or thirties. Like most people, after I’ve had a particularly heavy conversation, I feel an urgent need to really understand what’s been said and sometimes, more importantly, what has not been said.
If I analyze a conversation into the ground, replaying it over and over in my mind, and I still don’t understand what’s been said or find that what’s been said is causing me pain, then I find it easier not to think about it all. I’m very good at pushing the tough subjects deep down into the recesses of my brain where I think they can’t hurt me. If a conversation hurts me, I try like hell to simply not think about it at all.
I’ve learned, however, that often, whatever I am most determined not to think about, someone somewhere will find a way to bring it into the conversation. That’s the thing about conversation – it so rarely stays where we want it to stay. A conversation is like an evolving organism that has a mind of its own. It is a living thing that has the potential to go in any direction regardless of the intentions of the participants.
As participants in a conversation we begin under the illusion that we are controlling the conversation. The conversation then does one of three things: it evolves into a beautiful, independent creature with infinite possibility for engendering new ideas or new, positive feelings; it becomes a monstrous, independent force of nature, a manipulative creature that wreaks havoc and cannot be contained; or it becomes just another one of billions of mundane conversations that appear to mean absolutely nothing. I fear it sometimes, this enigmatic creature – the conversation.
Life and the world are ruled almost completely by this phenomenon of the conversation. Trillions of conversations are going on right now as I type. Some of them will evolve in such a way as to strengthen the relationship of the participants over time. There are many in our lifetime with whom we will have but one single conversation and never speak again – the man in line at the registry, the woman who checked your coat at the theatre, the taxi driver, the man on the elevator.
The destructive and numerous conversations we have with people we know will multiply and disintegrate over time, stealthily, slowly damaging the relationship. A single conversation can be the catalyst that leads to the end of the relationship over a long period of time, or a conversation can destroy a relationship in an instant.
The conversation takes control and it is so insidious specifically because it is so often not forgotten. It is insidious, a living being. Once it is has taken place — if it leaves its mark — it is not forgotten. A powerful conversation is a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle.
What is life, after all, but a never-ending series of conversations? Perhaps all the hundreds of seemingly mundane, casual conversations that appear to be meaningless individually, when viewed in their entirety over centuries, are actually the engine that powers our planet and our lives.
Conversations are the basis of every relationship on earth. A negative conversation can destroy a relationship in an instant while a positive one can validate and nurture it for a lifetime. I think of how many conversations I’ve had in my life so far, and it actually makes me a little sick to think about, even though I know it’s an inescapable part of being a living, breathing person on this planet. Still, despite the magic and genius that have come out of so many conversations over the centuries, it is a little nauseating to think of how many conversations have taken place since human beings learned to speak.
Directly or indirectly, the sum total of all the conversations I have ever had have led me to the place I am at this moment. It’s not such a bad place, but I feel almost as if it happened beyond my control or knowledge, as if I’ve been tricked somehow. Is the conversation actually some kind of independent force that people are completely unaware of? Is there some universal force that guides the infinite number of conversations taking place every moment, century after century? When did it begin? Will the talking ever cease?
Someday when mankind is no more that will, of course, be the end of all conversation. (Go ahead, you can say it: Thank God). The planet will be silent. Imagine the planet silent – even for a moment. Imagine if there were a way to get everyone on earth to simply stop speaking simultaneously. Only some force from above could do that. I wonder if there is any event on earth that could force all human beings into silence even for a moment; not death, but simply silence. That would be a miraculous moment. I like to imagine a moment when all people everywhere simply stopped talking and listened to the silence.
Maybe that’s where the force of God comes from. Maybe conversation is God’s fuel. I wonder if we’ve gotten it all wrong up to now. I think to myself that maybe God is the force that oversees and manages the billions upon billions of conversations taking place on the earth at any one time. Is what we call “God” or a “higher power” really the sum of all conversations? What is life but a series of billions of conversations?
Millions of the conversations that take place seem to mean nothing at all. Then there are the ones that are important or remembered. What if life is just that – an endless series of trillions of conversations with each participant believing that he or she has control over each conversation when in reality, the conversation is an independent force of its own working its way around the planet?
Such a notion certainly helps to keep things in perspective. If life is nothing but an endless series of never-ending conversations, it may be the power of conversation that will determine the fate of the world and the fate of each individual.
How many conversations does a person have in an average lifetime? It must be billions; almost as many conversations as there are moments. It is staggering to think about how many conversations are taking place right now – an infinite number it would seem. This is our world. When you boil it down, all our world really amounts to is trillions of conversations all taking place at the same time. There is never a time on the earth when no conversations are taking place. Never. What is death, then, except the end of all conversation?
People talk about the art of conversation. It is an art. I believe that. I also believe it is something so massive and beyond our understanding that it may very well be the force that guides all that we are and all that we will become.
How many of all the conversations that take place around the world every day will directly lead to an action that will affect the world in some way, large or small, or the fates of the individuals involved? If one conversation leads to an action, good or bad, and that process is multiplied 100 trillion or more times throughout a minute, an hour, a day, a month, a year or through decades, think of the force of what that means. It’s incomprehensible. Conversations sustain us; we are social creatures who must communicate. By nature, humans cannot be entirely alone. We cannot not talk.
The conversation is essential to our existence, even if our environment mandates that the conversations we are having are destructive or negative. We need conversation the way we need love and food and water and sleep. We are constantly on the search for meaningful conversations that make us laugh or feel a certain way about our lives or our circumstances, conversations that validate our ego, our sense of who we are, and our purpose. If I think of the world in this way, I will be forever conscious of the conversations I have, what they mean, and how they will predict the rest of my life.
Imagine the premise that there is no such thing as a meaningless conversation. Conversation as a higher power would be viewed much differently, a strange god that is neither bad nor good, but simply a force of communication with its own agenda. Does conversation have its own agenda separate from the conscious or unconscious agendas of the participants? If this force is some kind of higher power, does it have an agenda? Is there a method to its madness?
How many conversations have led to peace? How many conversations have led to war? Sometimes I think we’d all be much better off if we would simply not talk so much.
I’ll be thinking about my conversations in the days ahead, at least for a while. Eventually, of course, I will forget this conversation I had with myself tonight. I will babble on about everything under the sun, as I did before, or maybe not. Note to self: think about “conversation” on occasion. I’ll shut up now.