Why do we talk? Why not?

Here are some reasons to talk to someone:

  1. We enjoy talking to each other. I may find the other sympathetic, interesting, smart, sexy, you name it. Talking is connecting.
  2. We talk because it’s a good way to deal with conflict. It is good to debate and try to convince each other. Talking is better than beating each other up or shooting at each other.
  3. We talk to each other to learn from each other. The other person may know something I don’t know or has a perspective that will help me understand something better.
  4. We may be looking for challenge. The other person may disagree with me and offer challenges that test my viewpoints, help me clarify my thoughts, correct misconceptions, hone my arguments.
  5. We are *deeply concerned* that the other person is terribly wrong and we’ll try to correct them, for example through persuasion.
  6. We are being paid to engage in conversation, for example as teachers.
  7. The other person is an interesting specimen that’s worth studying. Maybe I have a survey or interview guide ready to use.

Here are some reasons not to talk to someone:

  1. None of the reasons to talk to someone is present: I don’t like the other person(s), they don’t have much of interest to offer, I am not interested in their perspective, they’re immune to argument and persuasion, etc.
  2. It turns out that attempts at conversation amplify conflicts with the other person instead of alleviating or managing them.
  3. In more extreme cases, conversation with someone else can be unpleasant and sometimes even harmful, depending on one’s experiences and background.
  4. Especially in public conversations, we may legitimize and amplify the positions of conversation partners with dangerous and hateful views.
  5. Especially in public conversations, we may enable such conversation partners to insult, offend, or even harm others.

This is obviously a rought list, with things missing and others to be added. And there is no simple ledger that tells us when to talk and when not to talk. But I think we need to keep points like these in mind when we decide whether to engage with someone or whether to stay away, especially when it comes to public discussion or debate.

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