In order to create a context for discussion, I ask for a 'greeting of the spirit' (Keats's phrase) in asking a naive question of myself and offering as honest an answer as I can rranage. When I say 'I had a good conversation with X today', what do I mean? Obviously not a sinqle thing, nor even necessarily a similar thing whenever I say it, but same essentials can probably be abstracted. I ~uld almost certainly mean that I became aware of x's presence through his/her responses, and felt reasonably confident that X was aware of my presence through my responses. This would account for the words 'conversation with' as distinct fran 'diatribe to' or 'senron from'. There was mutual awareness and a belief that we were listening to each other, although the only source for such a belief is an observed responsiveness to each other. What about a good conversation? Here I could mean a range of things. We seemed to be understanding each other
throughout, we seemed to reach agreement after same false starts or misunderstandings, individually we seemed to became spurred by what the other was saying into an excited responsiveness, we seemed to be discovering something together in a train of logic or association which was helped along by the questions/statements/answers offered by the other. I may have seen or understood something I had never before realized, or reached an idea or feeling which I would probably not have formulated in such a way without somebody helping me. Or X expressed a change of opinion precipitated or inf 1 uenced by what I had said in answer to hi~er ideas ••• and so on. What gathers a 11 these feelings together (whether X shared them or not) is a personal experience of the unexpected outcane fran what might have started as a bored, apparently predictable, even ritualistic exchange. If we did not so readily ignore or take for granted the mystery of the camonplace (what Dickens calls 'the ranance of the familiar'), we should describe this whole process as a miracle. But the main point I wish to make is that the process itself, at every step as we are forced to explain it, depends on notions of responsiveness, listening, interacting and interpreting -and not primarily on speaking, saying, uttering. What we hear is what enables us to speak, and what we say is what enables the other to hear and speak, and so on. It is the listening function which is, far fran being passive, of prime creative importance in determining the direction and future course of a conversational interaction. If either party neglects the speaking function (by a nod or a wink) he is still involved in a conversation; but if either party abdicates listening and responding, the conversation is over. A conversation is defined by responsive hearers, not by eloquent speakers, and it is the function of active listening' which dictates the direction in which speakers proceed.