Nourishing Conversation

Letter from the Editor


Published:

A humorist once described going out to dinner as an hour during which his wife informed him of everything he’d done wrong that week.

Cute. But I see restaurant dining as the adult version of the early-childhood pleasure of sitting down to a dinner that magically appears (thanks to the adults in the house). Afterward, empty plates are whisked away — no thought of doing dishes, packaging leftovers, or planning for supper again tomorrow.

The luckiest children grow up having their meat and potatoes served with a hefty helping of lively dinner conversation, learning on a basic level what Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

Restaurants can go a long way toward fostering good dialogue by not playing music too loudly — please.

As a symbolic gesture, waiters might also refrain from efficiently clearing table linens with a crumb sweeper: Good conversations spring from small crumbs as we break bread and break the silence.

Of course, we all know the self-styled raconteur who fancies himself the life of the dinner party. Silence has its own rewards, as we’ve seen with this year’s award-winning, mostly silent film, The Artist.

Where could we benefit from silence, or at least more judicious use of our First Amendment right? Internet websites, often for media outlets, where those who comment on news reports use suburban crimes as an excuse to spout hatred. People need to stop repeating this cliché: “That kind of thing doesn’t happen here.” It does.

Two recent killings — one in Royal Oak, one in Grosse Pointe Park — brought out a distressing number of “those people” ugly comments on a number of local sites. It’s time to heed Mrs. Roosevelt’s observation and elevate our rhetoric.

In this month of St. Patrick’s Day, the words of John O’Donohue, the late Irish poet and philosopher, ring especially true. In an NPR interview, O’Donohue said:

 “When is the last time that you had a great conversation, a conversation which wasn’t just two intersecting monologues, which is what passes for conversation a lot in this culture.  But when had you last a great conversation, in which you overheard yourself saying things that you never knew you knew? That you heard yourself receiving from somebody words that absolutely found places within you that you thought you had lost  … a conversation that continued to sing in your mind for weeks afterwards?

“I’ve had some of them recently, and … they are food and drink for the soul.”

Without conversation, it’s possible to have a full meal and remain achingly hungry.


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