We have been “discussing” the means by which community can be fostered at our school. I have taken the thesis that three things are necessary for community: commitment, a common vision, and conversation. I have stated that these three all naturally lead to each other. If we are committed to forming a community, then we have to share a common vision by committing to sharing our own vision and bringing each individual vision into alignment with a commonly held one. My last article ended with a brief discussion of the fact that the only way to align our vision is through conversation. I believe this is the key and perhaps missing link to this whole puzzle.
Conversation is dead in our culture. We seem unable to stay in the middle of the conversational road, finding ourselves in one of two destructive ditches instead. We either run into the ditch of “opinion” or the ditch of “fact.” Neither promotes true conversation. True conversation understands that Truth exists, but as fallen humans we must be very careful not to believe we either cannot know any truth (the “opinion” ditch) or that we know it all (the “fact” ditch). If conversation is dead in our culture, then we need to revisit the idea of conversation and see if it cannot be resurrected, or our hope for true community will die with it.
Conversation is between two people, standing side by side (metaphorically, not necessarily physically) and looking at some “thing” together. The “thing” can be anything: an idea, an object, another person, etc. More than two people can be in conversation, but only two people can be conversing at once. There is always and only the speaker and the listener. Both must be able to speak and to listen well. The beauty of conversation is that both the speaker and the listener are learning. As the speaker sets forth his view of the “thing” being conversed upon, he is being made to order and deliver his thoughts in a way he probably has not done in exactly the same way ever before. And the listener is very active, hearing, asking questions in his mind of the things being said, attempting to “see” the thing from the speaker’s viewpoint.
When conversation occurs well, it produces the commonly held vision we are seeking to commit ourselves to and thus use to form a community. But several obstacles stand in our way to getting to this point of conversation. Time is required for real conversation. This is one reason it has gone away: we don’t have much time for such things anymore. Skill in reasoning, speaking, listening, everything necessary to “see” a thing together is in short supply today. Most noticeably lacking and pertinent to our discussion, education is necessary for real conversation. Education includes all the skills necessary for good discussion, but it also provides many of the “things” we need to converse about. It should require us to read the great works, centering on Scripture, and then demand us to talk, think, write, and work out in our heads the great ideas contained therein. Many of us missed this kind of education, though we got good grades and several degrees along the way.
Without going into a deep review of the work, I wish to challenge those who take to heart the need for such a conversation, about such a common vision, to read a great book on the subject. It is short, wonderful, and a difficult read. But it is worth every ounce you put into it in effort. Dr. Josef Pieper’s “Leisure: the Basis of Culture” is a much more eloquent tome than this little article or this author can be. His vision of pursuing the best forms of conversation because they lead us to Christ is a glorious vision for what our community ought to be.
At its heart, true education is about forming a community which holds a common vision formed by great and ongoing conversation. We don’t have that yet. It is worth each of us giving a lifetime to its pursuit, however, for our Lord has called us to such. Let the conversation continue…