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Whether great conversation traverses easy or difficult terrain, its reward is a more poignant connection with others. But to converse well is challenging. The art of conversation lacks well-defined rules, yet places high demands on our capabilities. Perhaps it is helpful to consider philosopher Michael Oakeshott’s brilliantly concise description of conversation as “unrehearsed intellectual adventure.” In these three quick words he beautifully encapsulates the spontaneity, challenge and pleasure of this quintessentially human social interplay.

To say that conversation is unrehearsed is to acknowledge that it depends on the moment. It thrives not on plans or goals but on improvisation. (Dialogue with the hope of some gain is not conversation; it is lecture, competition or interview.) There is an unspoken consensus among linguists that conversation is process-oriented, that its course cannot be predetermined. University of California, Berkeley philosopher John Searle once lamented that “conversation does not have an intrinsic structure about which a relevant

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This story is from Kinfolk Issue Twenty-Two

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