By Vijay Phanshikar :
THE professor of sociology was far more communicative than one could ever imagine when he taught the subject of ‘family’ as the basic institution. Every student got drawn into the subject wholeheartedly. Such was the capability of the teacher -- who was very popular among students. That was more than fifty years ago. The institution of family occupied a critical place and space in the collective and individual thought-process. This is the story of times then. The honourable professor encouraged students -- the loud-thinker among them -- to think about the main attributes of the family as the basic unit of the society. And when all the students’ imagination had been exhausted, he suggested one work as the more important attribute of the family -- conversation. “If this attribute is missing, we cannot call the group a family”, he said, making us start thinking deeply.
And then he went on to say, in effect, ‘Dear students, remember, mere talking is not conversation’. And then he went on to describe in detail what conversation should be like ideally. Of course, that was in those good, old days, when the people had enough time at hand -- unlike today when nobody has time to spare for a conversation. The professor said, in effect, that in a conversation, the most critical core value was respect for those who were engaged in the conversation. Listening with care and respect, thus, formed one more dimension of conversation. However, the professor was talking with reference to the times then -- when listening was far more sincere and done with much attention -- out of respect and out of necessity. Why does the loud-thinker raise this subject now? The answer is simple: Today, in most families, conversation is sorely missing -- which the loud-thinker realised after interacting with countless numbers of men, women and youth and school-going children. Most of these persons with whom the loud-thinker established connect to probe into this issue of familial conversation said, in effect, that nobody in the family today has any time for quiet, relaxed conversation. “Everybody is engaged with his or her cellphone,” a senior woman in her late sixties observed. Thus, she came straight to the point. And she was not alone in whining about lack of relaxed time for people in the family to have conversation with others.
They are either busy with their respective schedules or with their own cellphones or are watching television or engaged in social media “groups”. With so much dominance of communication technology ready in their hands, most are engaged separately with others, thus without any sensible time for relaxed family conversation. “True, the family looks like a family from the outside. In the inside, the group has only the nomenclature of family without the essential attribute of conversation as a cementing, energising, propelling force that takes people forward individually and collectively,” a very successful corporate executive added when this subject was broached with him. The purpose here is not to run down the cellphones per se. The purpose is to highlight the importance of conversation as an essential attribute of a family -- which is so almost totally missing from most families these days, thanks to many factors that may differ from family to family. The cellphone may symbolise the technology in our hands. But more importantly, what should trouble us more is the absence of the tendency to look for relaxed time to have a meaningful, respectful family conversation. As the loud-thinker concludes this piece, he wishes to remind everybody the words of his professor of sociology: “Mere talking is not conversation.”