Six Degrees of Conversation

Race horses, seatbelts, buzzing windmills in airplanes, Lady Antebellum, World War II, county commissioners, Hawaii, personal meetings with Eleanor Roosevelt, blizzards that nearly coincided with births, rattlesnake antics, telephone calls from Ann Romney, the cost of bulls (as in the cow kind), Ford v.s GMC, airport expansion plans, kitchen cabinet installation, road trips from Colorado to Alaska and Tim Tebow, of course.  Yep, I believe we covered it all.  In the course of just four hours.

Oh the art of conversation.  And it is an art.  Finding those connections, inquiring into things of interest, the back and forth volley between two people can truly be an art form, in and of itself.  How can one thing lead to another and another until we find ourselves at somewhere completely opposite of where we started?  It’s kind of like the road trip from Colorado to Alaska.  With a primary route in mind, our conversational trip took a few twists and turns tonight.  A few back roads were taken, and even a ferry at one point.  But eventually we wound up in Alaska, maybe not exactly where we had anticipated, but we covered a lot of territory and we made it somewhere new and different, with lots of discoveries along the way.

There were stories involving bad flight weather and a split second decision to land a World War II fighter plane or push the eject button (or rather, open the door and bail at that time) with your superior sitting next to you, inquiring which it would be.  With the choice of landing strip or parachute, he chose the landing strip option and fell out of the low clouds to find the barely airborne plane touching down almost immediately with crews of fire engines ready for the impending crash. In the end, there was no crash.  But he admitted, it did seem a little eerie.

We’ve all had memorable conversations throughout our lives, discussions we will cherish and remember for all time.  Warm summer nights spent under the stars, with nothing but beautiful words rising out of the darkness.   Long discussions with children, just learning the meanings of words like “thermometers” and “mysteries,” using their newfound words in sentences and paragraphs strung together like macaroni on string necklaces.  And we’ve probably had a few serious debates and arguments that won’t ever be solved, but will remain symbolic of certain times and certain people in our lives

I don’t consider myself an artful conversationalist. I’m usually not willing to dig much further than, “Hi, I’m Katie.”    I typically find conversation with strangers to be difficult, and I’m pretty sure my awkwardness is apparent.  To be honest, most times I wonder “Why?”  Is it worth the effort?  Why bother trying to find those connections?  If only it were as easy as the conversation hearts we just exchanged on Valentine’s Day – a simple “Be Mine” or “You’re Sweet” would suffice as an entire conversation.  No awkward segue necessary.

I personally know a couple of true conversationalists, properly trained in the art.  And by properly trained, I mean one has actually attended a structured class on the how-to’s.  They enjoy conversation immensely.  They seem to know the appropriate questions to ask, honing in on new directions to take the discussion and they are really adept at listening.  That may be the real key.  They are actively listening, while participating in a conversation.  Who knew easy conversation actually requires a heavy dose of multi-tasking?

The art of easy conversation obviously requires a mind that is silently turning frantically in the background, continually creating new questions to ask, inventing new scenarios for the discussion to take and working to find previously undiscovered connections.  I picture gears grinding together at a fast pace inside their minds, clouds of steam rolling off of them, lightbulbs of new ideas flashing on and off, lighted exit signs perched precariously at the end (just in case an emergency exit from a particular subject is warranted) and a crew of miniature men dressed in suit coats, sweating, typing the things they hear into memory at the speed of light.   Where did all my men in the little suits go?  It seems when I need them, they have exited out the emergency door, unwilling to sit at their typewriters in these hot, low paying working conditions any longer. They won’t even do me the favor to stamp a just-introduced stranger’s name into my memory.

Conversation begins to sound like a lot of work to me.  And to be honest, sometimes it’s just not worth it in my mind.  Especially those situations on airplanes, early in the morning, for a measly one hour flight.  In those instances, I usually err on the side that it’s just not worth it.  Things that look easy, never actually are.  It has taken a lot of practice, missteps and re-dos to finally make difficult tasks look easy.  And stimulating conversation must be one of those things.

But most true conversationalists will dig and dig, talk and talk, chat and chat until they can find that connection.  Maybe it’s almost a challenge for them – to find that little bit of something they have in common.

A visual of our Six Degrees of Separation. Illustration courtesy of Wikipedia.

We’ve all heard of Six Degrees of Separation:  the idea that we are all really only six steps away from anyone else in the world, and that through friends of friends of friends, we should be able to make a connection or introduction with that someone in six steps or less.  Maybe their friends are a little more connected than mine? At one point in the 1990’s, a similar concept in Hollywood became known as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  Current social media outlets have assisted the Six Degrees of Separation theories.   According to a recent study, it’s been shown that Facebook reduces your degree of separation from six to four – in that via Facebook you should only be four steps away from anyone else in the world at any given time.  Apparently our big world is getting smaller by the day.

So maybe conversationalists are, without an exact goal in mind, just trying to find that sixth degree of separation between two people.  A commonality that makes this big world of ours seem just a little smaller.  A connection that assures us all that we are inherently related and similar despite cultural and geographical differences.  But it will always come down to asking the “right” questions and steering the discussion in the “right” direction to enable us to discover those connections.  So, an art it remains.  Let me go round up my little miniature men in suits again, and give this art of conversation thing another try.

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12 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Conversation

    • The six degrees of separation sure was true as I sat at the table last week talking to Tillie Bishop!
      Happened to be in on the same after dinner conversations that you mentioned and it was some of the best ever with a 90 year old person who has been my father-in-law for the past 36 years! And how about that flight he took us on in the B-26 bomber!

  1. In our Perennial Garden of life we must recultivate the lost art of calm discussion and real communication. It lies in the understanding of on simple fact: the opposite of speaking is listening—it is not just waiting impatiently for a chance to speak again.

  2. Road trip to Alaska???!? Have you posted about it? I lived in Palmer and Eagle River for a year and a half…and am itching to go back. I love reading about people’s impressions of that wild and wonderful place. xoxo

    • I WISH! My grandparents visited quite awhile ago. They bought a fifth wheel especially for the month they were going to spend on the road and took off toward Alaska! It was fun hearing about it — what an adventure! I would LOVE to visit someday. I have visions of flying in on a pontoon plane, splash landing in a remote lake somewhere in the heart of the mountains. A girl can always dream . . . ! Where are Palmer and Eagle River?

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