As a former newspaper editor in several robust, smaller towns, one of my absolute pleasures in putting the paper together every week was the incoming mail. From letters slide under the front door, with no signature, to an email invitation to lunch with a determined citizen to explain local politics to me, the word coming from the readers and the community, was not only wonderful, but needed.
From these contacts I received news tips, story corrections, non-stop questions. I was able to hold ongoing dialogue with citizens with different ideas, different takes on issues, concerns and suggestions on topics which had grabbed their attention.
From these contacts I learned my writing was “sophomoric,” “near-sighted at best,” and “sad in its lack of depth.” At least I knew I was being read.
One especially memorable moment was a late afternoon stop off by two long-retired brothers who disagreed with each other on every current subject floating through the community’s discussions. Their wives had banned them from both houses, they needed a referee and room for their afternoon coffee and discussion. I was game.
As a part time college professor, conversations with my students ages 16 to ageless are purely wonderful. The ideas of the young, the very seniors in the midst returning to school. A conversation about a hard day, an accomplishment, a question answered – all so very good.
It’s been some years since I read him, but I recall James Hillings, in his book, Stirrings of Culture was clear about the purpose of conversations. He writes, to paraphrase, that we need to remember what conversations are for. He wrote, “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.”
A conversation, with two or more sides, can in fact, adjust or turn things around. Just thinking out loud here, how much I miss those newspaper types of interactions.