Great Conversation Starters and Finishers Part I

To begin with, allow me to do my part in dissipating an axiom that’s time has come and gone. Discussing politics, religion, and sex is no longer the faux pas it once was. This is not to say that you should zero in on these subjects for your discussion fodder, but you don’t have to be afraid to delve into any one of them.

Discussing politics, in case you haven’t noticed, is pretty depressing. Perhaps reason enough to approach this conversation topic gingerly. Religion? While there are many great conversations to be had in this vein, there are not many people who are willing to discuss the material objectively and with an open mind.

And finally, unless you have a specific issue within the sex realm, such as the prurient content of the Internet or television, it’s not a good ‘casual’ topic.

We live in the age of global human communications. You can have a pen pal in London, and converse (in writing) almost in realtime over the Internet. Just a few years ago, it took days for a letter to get to London. Phone calls to Brazil cost a fraction of what they did a few years ago and you can make such a call from anywhere using your cell phone!

In spite of this communications boon, we humans are becoming less proficient at actually communicating both in writing and in conversation.

Here are some great topics to get some really interesting conversations started with people you meet at the office, socially, or when dating. Start a genuinely interesting conversation and watch people gather around.

There are two rules for casual conversation: 1) Never get personal, and 2) make sure of any facts.

Topic 1. Misinformation
Some misinformation lasts a brief time, such as news stories that get fouled up, and broadcast before the facts are verified. Some is carried on over time by legend or habit. And some is perpetuated simply by repetition.

An excellent example of repetition (and faulty news reporting) can be seen in the case of Robert Fulton (November 14, 1765 – February 24, 1815). Mr. Fulton did NOT invent the steam engine, nor did he sail down any river on a boat called the Clermont. The name of the vessel Fulton rode on was called the North River Steamboat, and Clermont was the name of a town on the riverway to the Hudson. When the North River Steamboat stopped in Clermont, a reporter apparently wired the story of Fulton’s progress to his New York newspaper, where editors made errors that are now replete throughout literature and solid reference materials, including encyclopedias.

An example of myth or legend perpetuating misinformation is found in our daily use of the expressions “The sun is coming up” and “the sun is going down.” This was said when people believed the Earth was the center of the universe, and the sun went around the Earth. We’ve known for hundreds of years that this is not what actually happens, and yet we continue to say it the same way.

Topic 2. Illusion of Numbers
We can’t really understand numbers, per se. In order for us poor humans to understand things, we have to be able to ‘wrap our brains around them.’ If I say any numbers 7 or below, you’ve got a good chance of ‘understanding’ what I mean. You can actually ‘see’ 6 things in your mind. Certainly you can see 2 or 3. But what about 30? Or 172? And what about more serious numbers, like the cost of a house: 250,000 dollars? How much is that?

The above phenomenon is why we all like it so much when numbers are expressed in ways we can better grasp. Ross Perot did a superb job of breaking numbers down to where people had a better chance of understanding them. When I say that the annual interest on the national debt is 75,000,000,000 dollars ($75-billion) – you haven’t a prayer of understanding it. If I say it is enough money for every man and woman living west of the Mississippi to get a brand new car, you get a slightly improved grasp, even if you don’t fully fathom it.

The fact is, while numbers are absolute, we can’t really identify with them beyond the ones under ten. Once we reach a certain point, we start to use other words to describe things. The interest on the national debt, for example, might simply be called “huge” or “giganticamundo!” Giganticamundo is about as effective at conveying the number 75,000,000,000 as 75-billion is. In neither instance will the listener actually understand the number used.

Topic 3. Ethical Broadcast Standards
What should people be allowed to say or show on television? Just recently, the FCC fines for showing something objectionable were increased by ten times! But what, considering our rights of free speech, should be considered ‘objectionable?’ This is a great conversation topic, and one that can generate hours of interesting discussion.

In the 1960’s there was a very popular TV show called I Dream of Jeannie. It was about an Air Force officer who finds a bottle with a lovely Genie in it. One of the two stars of the show, Barbara Eden, frequently wore her Genie outfit. Network officials were careful to ensure that the then sexy outfit covered Miss Eden’s belly button.

Today, on any morning of the week, you can turn the television on to watch a workout show and see several VERY scantily-clad girls freely perspiring as they gyrate on the beach. And many swimwear competitions in beauty contests would have been banned thirty years ago.

The point is, what’s suitable, objectionable, and acceptable? Times change, as do people and the morality of cultures. Are we really still at a point where we should slowly release things to the media for their discretionary use? Haven’t we evolved far enough along to decide, as individuals, whether we want to see or hear something? Should it be the right of government to control broadcast standards, or should it be ours?

These three topics should make starting conversations much easier for you, and should also make your conversations eminently more interesting and popular than discussing the weather or sports scores. Look for more great topics in Part II. And remember, interesting conversations attract positive attention.

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