Rules of Conversation


The following is a modernization/paraphrase of Rules of Conversation from Some Fruits of Solitude by William Penn (14 October 1644 – 30 July 1718) with some reflections following.

Don’t be a social butterfly. Avoid company where it is not profitable or necessary. When you are out with people, don’t speak too much. Listen a lot, speak little.

In silence there is wisdom. Running your mouth off is foolish and can get you into all sorts of trouble. Silence is always safe.

Some are so foolish as to interrupt and think they know what someone is going to say instead of listening and thinking before they speak. This is both rude and shows a lack of common sense.

If you think twice and speak once, you will speak twice the better for it.

It is better to say nothing than to say something which has no purpose. To speak pertinently, consider both what is relevant and appropriate to say.

In all debates, let truth be your aim, not victory, or an unjust rewards. Strive for truth, and to learn, not just to defeat your opponent.

Don’t seek arguments nor let your temper get the better of you.

If your position turns out to be wrong, don’t be so pig-headed as to stick to your argument no matter what. And don’t use wit or charm to derail the conversation from the facts. Don’t try to provoke your opponent either or argue simply do show people up. Remember, the purpose of all debate should be to inform, or inform others: to suss out the Truth.

People are too prone to be concerned for their own reputation than for the truth.

There is no way I could count how many times I’ve heard someone say something like, “You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you talk.” Clichés like this become clichés because they’re often true. I’m also reminded of the builder’s adage, “Measure twice, cut once.” I know I’ve gotten myself into trouble several times by failing to follow that advice.

I’ve made horrible mistakes in life by not following Mr. Penn’s Rules of Conversation. I’ve learned painful lessons about listening more, and speaking less (and still I err in this). I’ve lost friends through argument, but gained several through listening. Conceding the point is so very difficult, but when we humbly admit where we are in error, people are more likely to consider our words when we have the right of a matter.

The Art of Manliness has a great post on conversation and avoiding what they call Conversational Narcissism.

In short, my takeaway here is to increase my awareness of listening more and to be gentle in conversation.

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