A few decades ago at a national conference of the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education, I served as a mentor to an eager young woman, new to her job in Development at Concordia University. “Be an interesting person,” I told her. “In our profession, we will meet people of all ages, from different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, working in diverse fields. It’s important to be able to converse with them.” She looked crestfallen, as she’d hoped to learn about LYBUNTS, direct mail and phonathons, the so-called nuts and bolts of our business, not about the value of decent conversation.
In retirement I say the same: social interaction is vital to our good health and longevity. To maintain social connections, we must practice the fine art of conversation. In fact we owe it to new and old friends, family members, spouses, even ourselves to be interesting. And we have time now to hone this craft. Don’t be disappointed, readers, in what follows.
THE ART OF CONVERSATION
- Watch, read or listen to the news. At this stage ignore any advice to avoid the contentious subjects of politics and religion. Engaging in friendly debate helps to keep our aging minds lively.
- Visit art galleries and museums not only to support culture but also to expand your knowledge. We can acquire and pass on fun facts. For instance, at the Museum of Vancouver I found out the city held its first “Human Be-in” in 1967; over 1000 “hippies” converged on Stanley Park. At Science World I learned we spend on average 1.5 years of our life in the bathroom!
- Attend lectures and join docents on guided tours. The word docent came into English by way of German, tracing back to the Latin word docere, meaning “teach”, so docents will relate stimulating material.
- Fill our lives with experiences, not things. We want to have stories to tell, not stuff to show.
- Talk about our likes: a favourite TV show or book, a best restaurant or travel destination. But attempt to share our reactions, interpretations, feelings, not just facts.
BETTER LEFT UNSAID
- “How are you?” Although friends will listen sympathetically, try not to overburden them with lengthy tales of poor health.
- Complaining becomes draining. Presumably we no longer gripe about incompetent colleagues or rush hour congestion or other work-related affronts. Let’s not develop a new list of grievances. Try to minimize complaining or, better still, stop it all together. (An exception: if we live in Vancouver or Toronto, we’re allowed to grumble about housing!)
- “He said, she said.” Gossip is toxic. No matter to whom we’re talking and how trustworthy we think they are, gossiping never ends well.
- We’re well advised to follow the adage we heard as young children: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!”
Perhaps paradoxically the best conversationalist is also the best listener. Pay careful attention when people speak and, to let them know we’re listening, employ a simple yet powerful device: “Tell me more …” •