Conversation- The Lost Art

We have destroyed a five thousand year old tradition. For all that time, we humans passed along information through conversations among ourselves and within groups whether those groups were a tribe, town, neighborhood, school, family gathering or the dinner table. In the West, that’s over. Discourse and conversations, if they can even be termed that, now happen through advanced technology and digital media. Human to human exchange is gone..replaced with human to human by way of digital media and rapidly evolving technology.And yet, with all of the digital media content out there, radio and podcasts still have a massive grip on the consumer. Why? Because we’re HUMAN and the spoken word with its corresponding human emotion will always hold our attention. Its how we’re wired.

The longevity of radio is a testament to the power of words as well as the ability to educate and entertain. Some of the highest paid entertainers and talk show hosts in the world are on radio. The incomes of Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck verify this fact.

In some ways this result is odd because people on television have a huge advantage over radio due to better distribution systems, higher production quality and larger staffing. Yet they can barely hold on. Further, they have the ability to use and manipulate their audience with images. None-the-less, those “celebrities” or media darlings still can’t command the size audience that a great radio show can. Rachel Maddow is one of the highest rated cable TV shows, with an audience of four million viewers and the power of NBC behind her. Yet Rush Limbaugh, essentially a one man show, consistently pulls in over 25 million listeners a week.

A radio host has only his or her words to convey their message. Because of this, radio hosts are forced to be concise, clear and on-point at all times. In radio all faults, foibles and illogical statements are exposed as they occur. Radio hosts debate listeners and adversaries alike to get their point across which is why only the best speakers thrive in such an unforgiving medium.

Both of us listen to talk radio, especially Conservative talk radio.  We see why so many of the hosts are successful. They have the ability to converse, influence and explain very complicated matters in easy-to-understand terms. At first glance it  appears they are uniquely qualified to speak on these matters or have some special talent that allows them to.  The reality is that most benefit from having had a family structure where conversation and discourse was encouraged and enforced.

Take the case of Rush Limbaugh. He was an unremarkable student in the lower grades and did not go to college. He does not have a law, or any other, advanced degree. Even his employment history leaves a lot to be desired. For the most part, he had mid-to-low-level jobs at which he toiled for years. What Limbaugh did have was a stable family and an inquisitive father who took the time to educate his children. His father was a lawyer and judge.  Meal times were a family affair where hour long conversations about politics took place. His father would discuss many of the cases he worked on and how those cases, and their outcomes, related to society at-large. Civics, history and Constitutional Law were common topics of conversation and were so detailed that Limbaugh felt he received the best education just sitting at home! Although he was not academically gifted, what he did have was a love of radio and the ability to speak well. His ability to make an argument, explain the basis for his position and defend his ideas were challenged and refined every day of his youth at the dinner table.

Michael Savage is another example. A radio host with a vast following, Savage has said on numerous occasions that his time around the dinner table is what trained him for his career in radio. Although he has multiple degrees and is highly educated, Savage says that what fine-tuned his views on life were the hours spent with his mother.  She was a Russian immigrant who would gather with other women from the community and talk well into the night. As a child, Savage was not excused from these gatherings but instead was “forced” to hear them every night. These conversations helped shape him and his ability to critically think. He began to understand and view America from the eyes of immigrants: the hopes and dreams of what the United States offered from their perspective. A window into the world that other Americans could never understand.

Think about it. Two of the most influential men in radio and political analysis got the majority of their training around a dinner table! Not through textbooks, universities or television. Such is the power of family and spending time together engaged in meaningful and thoughtful conversation in a safe but challenging environment.

Today, as a father of six, I (Steve) know my kids benefit immensely from hearing my wife’s stories about growing up in South America. Latinos have a vivid way of speaking that sparks the imagination. Their stories are imbued with faith and mysticism.  I’ve worked in sales but my wife can tell a story much better than I ever could! I thank God our kids are reaping the rewards of hearing and seeing this county (as did Savage) through the eyes of an immigrant whose stories drive home   the truly extraordinary possibilities and benefits available here that can be found nowhere else.

As a mother, lawyer and former talk radio host, I (Carole) was raised in a home such as were both Limbaugh and Savage. Our dinner table was where heated and diverse opinions were shared and challenged. I learned early on to think critically and to be articulate if I hoped to be taken seriously. In many ways, it was the foundational training ground I needed to go on to both the practice of law and talk radio.

The technological advances have helped our children in many ways. But those raised with it, in the absence of sufficient human interaction, will be the first generation educated primarily by a digital medium rather than the spoken word. Our world has always been shaped by ideas. As a culture, we tend to move in the direction of the ones that are most convincing  not necessarily best.

In the recently released book, “Stealing Fire” authors Stephen Kotler and Jamie Wheal analyze “The Flow…that part of the brain where creative problem solving resides. Whether using meditation, prayer or drugs (Silicon Valley execs are now daily taking LSD and mescaline to enhance flow), time spent in that state exponentially enhances, by as much as 500%, creative thinking; but, it also shuts down the prefrontal cortex where critical thinking occurs. Since the power of great oratory has the ability to also move the masses into the flow (think Jesus, Hitler, Martin Luther King) it simultaneously causes critical thinking to shut down…which is why oratory must be accompanied by an intent to do good by the speaker as well as be critically evaluated by the listener.

It isn’t that our future will not be peppered with great orators. The danger lies in the capacity and developed ability of generations, raised without the benefits of intellectually challenging family life and reduced human interaction, to be able to discern between a well-intentioned leader and a despot.

sleeclark@gmail.com   contact@carolegold.com