Theodore Zeldin, a fellow and former dean of St. Anthony's College, Oxford, states that "It's good to talk" was the modus operandi of the twentieth century when people put their faith in self-expression, exchanging information, and trying to be understood. He hopes the twenty-first century will be a time when conversation takes center stage. He salutes this communication style as expanding horizons, acknowledging mystery, and challenging imaginations. In Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives, he suggests that we set up occasions for sharing ourselves, our ideas, and ideals with those who are different from us.

The same spirit is evident in an article on where Buddhist meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein reveals her practice of striking up conversations with strangers she meets on airplanes, trains, or in store lines. "Many times they are wisdom teachers waiting to remind me of important truths." For example, from a conversation with one woman on a plane, she gained insights into grief and the ties that link us with other people.

In Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, Margaret J. Wheatley explores the yearning for positive and deep conversations among citizens. The spiritual practice of listening, she notes, is what makes us human. It is when we don't have time to listen that distrust, cynicism, and despair take over our psyches and our politics.

It is hard to know whether these are the best or worst of times for conversations. On the one hand, millions of people around the world are participating in conversation cafes, salons, book discussion groups, women's circles, men's clubs, and small groups of every type imaginable. The School of Life in England recently offered a class for adults in "How to Have Better Conversations," covering ways to "make the leap from mere idle banter to enriching and adventurous conversation."

On the other hand, many lament the loss of true presence due to our reliance on digital devices to keep in touch with each other. Face-to-face conversations enable us to go deeper with sharing that signifies our heartfelt yearnings and truth. Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversation, is the most visible partisan for conversation.

It's time we thought seriously about the importance of conversation. Here are some quotations to get you started.

  • "When is the last time that you had a great conversation, a conversation which wasn't just two intersecting monologues, which is what passes for conversation a lot in this culture? But when had you last a great conversation, in which you overheard yourself saying things that you never knew you knew?"
    — John O'Donohue in Conversation - The Sacred Art by Diane M. Millis
  • "We can take courage from the fact that many people are longing to be in conversation again. We are hungry for a chance to talk. People want to tell their story, and are willing to listen to yours. People want to talk about their concerns and struggles. Too many of us feel isolated, strange, or invisible. Conversation helps end that."
    — Margaret Wheatley in Turning to One Another
  • "When we're brave enough to risk a conversation, we have the chance to rediscover what it means to be human. In conversation, we practice good human behaviors. We think, we laugh, we cry, we tell stories of our day. We become visible to one another. We gain insights and new understandings."
    — Margaret Wheatley in Turning to One Another
  • "There is nothing else we do better when we do conversation well. There is no other communication device that provides such subtle and instantaneous feedback, nor permits such a range of evaluation and correctability."
    — Richard Saul Wurman in Information/Anxiety 2
  • "The best of life is conversation, and the greatest success is confidence, or perfect understanding between sincere people."
    — Ralph Waldo Emerson in Information Anxiety 2 by Richard Saul Wurman
  • "The best kind of conversation is that which may be called thinking aloud."
    — William Hazlitt in Information Anxiety 2 by Richard Saul Wurman
  • "Help me to understand. Good hosts begin their conversation with these four words in an effort to learn more about the other. In the midst of difficulty, they turn to wonder rather than judgment. Whenever there are different perspectives in a conversation, a good host seeks to understand better how others see things, their feelings, and why their position is important to them."
    — Diane M. Millis in Conversation - The Sacred Art
  • "A single conversation across the table with a wise man is worth a month's study of books."
    — Chinese Proverb in Information Anxiety 2 by Richard Saul Wurman
  • "Everyone has the opportunity to use conversation as a model for communication. While this seems absurdly simple, and most people would reply that they do this every day, what we are really doing most of the time is lecturing. Conversation in its purest form means listening, responding to new stimuli, exchanging ideas. It requires thought, attention, and a patience which few of us have enough."
    — Richard Saul Wurman in Information/Anxiety 2
  • "Reading makes a full man, meditation a profound man, discourse a clear man."
    — Benjamin Franklin in Information Anxiety 2 by Richard Saul Wurman
  • "Sweet discourse, the banquet of the mind."
    — John Dryden in Information Anxiety 2 by Richard Saul Wurman
  • "Here we need to look at what conversation is. The word means turning around with, going back, like reversing, and it comes supposedly from walking back and forth with someone or something, turning and going over the same ground from the reverse direction. A conversation turns things around."
    — James Hillman in Stirrings of Culture: Essays from the Dallas Institute edited by Robert Sardello and Gail Thomas
  • "Good conversation has an edge: it opens your eyes to something, quickens your ears. And good conversation reverberates: it keeps on talking in your mind later in the day; the next day you find yourself still talking with what was said."
    — James Hillman in Stirrings of Culture: Essays from the Dallas Institute edited by Robert Sardello and Gail Thomas
  • "Conversation takes time. We need time to sit together, to listen, to worry and dream together. As this age of turmoil tears us apart, we need to reclaim time to be together. Otherwise, we cannot stop the fragmentation."
    — Margaret Wheatley in Turning to One Another
  • "Imagine how different life would be if, instead of competing in conversation, we were taught to value speaking itself. … Suppose we listened to discover the whole, complex beauty of others' ideas, instead of picking out flaws. We might become wiser and more eloquent. We also might come to know more about humanity and the world."
    — Jaida N'ha Sandra and Jon Spayde in Salons: The Joy of Conversation
  • "Human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate the conditions for change -- personal change, community and organizational change, planetary change. If we can sit together and talk about what's important to us, we begin to come alive. We share what we see, what we feel, and we listen to what others see and feel."
    — Margaret Wheatley in Turning to One Another
  • "More than words, conversation is music: Its harmony, rhythm, and flow transcend communication, flexing mind and heart, tuning us for companionship."
    — Catherine Blyth in The Art of Conversation