Conversations

When I was young, I was shy. A boy of few words. A listener more than I cared to be. Little did I know… You wonder to yourself if you knew what you even wanted to be back then. I highly doubt it. But, you’re starting to accrue a list of what you want to do. Your nascent list. May be your ever-nascent list. You can trace the threads vaguely in your memory. Hindsight is 20/20, but only if you reflect carefully.. Who decided on the number 20? Snellen probably. Who observed that we can make out two contours 1.75mm apart, 20 feet away? What conversations were those people having?

What I know is that people spoke with more authenticity then. More spontaneity. More abruptness. I often wondered when it would be my turn to do that. I wanted to be eloquent. I wanted to command a room. Command with tone. Command with earnest passion. Is it genetic? Is it genetic drift? is it what Dawkin’s coined as meme? But really, who can even trace when the first conversations of conversations took place. Some try to.

I had so many great conversations the last few weeks. It is a curious form of connection with another human. And if it is flowing…boy it feels euphoric. Everything makes sense. Words roll off your tongue as if to flaunt perfect Newtonian thermodynamics. Sound is affected by temperature but does affect temperature. When was the last time you have a conversation with someone about that? You sort of remember it all. Vector mechanics, calculus, Gibb’s free energy. Tertiary protein structure. They must have all, somehow, contributed to these moments. Think of who sat down to organize a group of knowledge into what is now math. Who knew a greek poem can trigger the events that lead to inventing the gram.

I find meaning in conversation. Some find it in writing. I do too. Some find it in watching or listening. I do too, and my preference is for the latter. But all of these activities carry more meaning when enriched with conversation. I am happy to listen to a lecturer, but more so if they try to engage me in conversation. Conversation is instant feedback, it’s palpable. Conversation can lead to a fight. It can lead to a transaction. It can lead to intimacy. For homo sapien, conversation is natural selection.

Internal Conversation is synonymous with reflection, I think. It is asking yourself and attempting to answer, but also attempting to mentally propagate that answer. I reflect on a class I took recently: At first I hated the class format. It is run as a tutorial. Minimal teaching. Usually I like that. Self-directed learning. With a bit of help. A bit of class conversation to stir up your settled thoughts and a bit of nudging your own self to think of questions to ask; To self-advocate. The assignments very reasonable: A draft survey. Attend and engage. A Proposal (the bulk of it), and a critique of a colleague’s proposal. Oh, and a presentation of our own proposal. All in that very order. It is course design but with intention.

Continuing my internal conversation: Draft a survey. Easy enough. You think you can bullshit part of it sure, but really, you can’t. There is a whole science to it. How you ask a question objectively, what you need to define as to avoid ambiguity. How you bold the text. How you annotate. The use of shading to highlight different items. It is a mini design project. It’s like the excel of qualitative and quantitative inquiry. It brings some order to the chaos of research questions.

A presentation can be better when it is a conversation, or more subtly, when it has the intention and effect of spurring conversation. I wanted to give a presentation like that. I thought it was my chance at redemption. I, unknowingly, dramatized the course. I created internal motivation perhaps. I submitted what I thought was an incomplete proposal, but I also knew what it was missing. A lot of us are so self critical, it literally makes us stagnate. But I didn’t just know what it was missing, I even learned more of what was missing through critiquing someone else’s work. And reaffirmed what I did well. Through giving feedback. I wanted to take it up a level. The presentation was just to present my proposal. I thought, why not present what it is, and what it become after only one week of reflection and critiquing another’s.

So, here’s to reflective conversation. With a cup of coffee cradled in the hand of course.

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