Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Rules for Conversation


Recently I discovered online a Victorian guide for young ladies on  etiquette. (Presumably, there was another manual of politeness for men.) While it is slightly overwhelming how detailed and convoluted the rules for social engagement were, when looking at the exact specifics, I do have to hand it  to the writers for laying out the foundations of a polite society. It does, however, seem to fall rather heavily on the poor shoulders of the female of the species but then did we really expect men to civilize the world? Just go to any sporting event and see for yourself.

Now I know it is impossible to return to those years (and I am not altogether sure if I'd really want to). Still, a quick glance at the item below tells us how very far we have sunk when it comes only  to the art of conversing.

The art of conversation consists in the exercise of two fine qualities. You must originate, and you must sympathize; you must possess at the same time the habit of communicating and of listening attentively. The union is rare but irresistible.

None but an excessively ill-bred person will allow her attention to wander from the person with whom she is conversing; and especially she will never, while seeming to be entirely attentive to her companion, answer a remark or question made to another person, in another group. Unless the conversation be general among a party of friends, confine your remarks and attention entirely to the person with whom you are conversing.

Steele says, "I would establish but one great general rule in conversation, which is this—that people should not talk to please themselves, but those who hear them. This would make them consider whether what they speak be worth hearing; whether there be either wit or sense in what they are about to say; and whether it be adapted to the time when, the place where, and the person to whom, it is spoken."

From  The Ladies' Book Of Etiquette, And Manual Of Politeness

Nowadays I just have trouble keeping the conversations safe from the attention-predators like television and cell telephones.  When going out to a public place with a dear friend, never sit with your back to a large screen television; No story, no matter how dramatic or revealing, will be able to compete with even the most dreary and familiar advertisement, Still worse, if the shoe were on the other foot, so to speak, and I were the one facing the vibrant television screen,  I wouldn't  fare any better.

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