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    The Healing of the World

Discussion: Drive and Desire: The Art of Conversation

A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Park Place Pastoral Centre, Wickham, Hampshire on 10th May 1974


This is the introduction to the discussion

This afternoon we are having our discussion meeting. This is really a very important exercise, a truly serious discipline, a process of learning, growing happily. In the modern world we are so accustomed to debates, also to conversations, to discussions, exchanges of views as we call them, in which each person puts forward his ideas or his thoughts, usually rather pell-mell, helter-skelter. One is talking just for the sake of talking, and you will notice how voices begin to rise bit by bit when one wants to assert one’s point of view. All this kind of thing is really a squandering of life energy. Very, very rarely only is that sort of conversation or discussion or exchange of views calculated to put us in tune with the rhythm of life. It is just two people talking away at each other. But when instead of two people we have twenty people, then of course there is pandemonium. One has only to listen quietly for three seconds at most to a crowd of people having a meal. A good many of us know what it sounds like in certain places and on certain occasions! Neither is the meal digested properly nor is the exchange, so-called, of deep thoughts and profound truths of any value and one just wastes time and energy. That is the less serious part of the trouble. There is something else which is really very deep involved in this. When people talk with each other in that manner, they are never conversing. True conversation is a deeply considered exchange, it is an interplay between two people. It is like a poem, it is like music, melody, counterpoint and so on, and the development of that melody and that counterpoint. Then conversation is fruitful, it is true con-versation, a talking with each other, it is a communing. To talk together means to communicate with each other. If that which is presented is not rightly considered and put forward in the right manner, and, even more important, if it is not listened to with an open heart and a completely open mind, there is little value in the exchange of mere words, however wonderful sounding they may be. That sound is like the sound of a drum, just emptiness, blankness inside. In the old days there were people who really understood this art of conversation, of discussion, of considering together.

Let me repeat the meaning of the word considering. To consider comes from cum (together with) and sidus (genitive case sideris, a star). A star is a self-shining light, not a borrowed light. It is self-shining because it is alive, it is ablaze, it is giving forth. So consideration in its profoundest meaning seems to me to be looking deeply into the light. If conversation or discussion is going to be really worthwhile instead of mere noise, then let what is said be considered, spoken gently, beautifully but quite clearly articulated, not mumbled, not rushed through. Give the other person a chance to absorb what you are putting forth and let it be considered by the other person quietly, deeply, and let a response be made. As I said earlier, this brings about communion, this sort of communication. You look at the communication that takes place in the world today, especially through the mass media. What is communicated? Horror, misery, the terrible things of life, that is what is communicated by and large. And people individually do likewise. We must learn this art of conversation, of considering the other person and what he is trying to put forward. If we do this, there will be one superb result. Normally when we talk, there are not two living beings communicating with each other but two images chattering away. I have a conception of you, an image in my mind, a mental construct. “He is this sort of person, that sort of person, he is going to say this. I know him”, and all the rest of it. I already have an image and I am listening to that image, I am listening for the things I expect him to say, and I shall interpret all that he says now at this moment according to my fossil of an image of him. Similarly I have an image of myself as I talk to him, and he has an image of me and he has an image of himself. The whole thing is a sham, so many ghosts making grimaces at each other. I am trying to drive home all the different aspects and meanings of silence.

In the silence the fullness of the heart speaks love and truth, and this sort of discipline which we shall try and practise now is something which helps towards that. I am going to be quiet, you are going to discuss. I should just like to add one point, that is that in this process of consideration, do not drive the mind like a man in a hurry drives his donkey or horse. That is to say do not dig into the storehouse of the discursive thought process, “Now, what shall I say, what sort of arguments can I bring forward?” No, the Quakers have a marvellous way here, they just remain silent until something really comes to life inside, at least that is the theory of it. And then that person speaks. Now that is the sort of thing that we should keep in mind.


Wonderful, thank you.

Kathie, 2nd December 2010

Tim Surtell
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