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Improving Conversation, as a Campground Host

Being a campground host is not just about cleaning restrooms. There are some thought-provoking moments, as well. For instance the host gets a lot of practice in reading people quickly, and adapting his speech to the other person's needs or interests. I wish I had gotten good at this 40 years ago.

Consider this quote from Boswell's classic "Life of Johnson:"

JOHNSON. 'Well, Sir, Ramsay gave us a splendid dinner. I love Ramsay. You will not find a man in whose conversation there is more instruction, more information, and more elegance, than in Ramsay's.' 

BOSWELL. 'What I admire in Ramsay, is his continuing to be so young.' 
JOHNSON. 'Why, yes, Sir, it is to be admired. I value myself upon this, that there is nothing of the old man in my conversation. I am now sixty-eight, and I have no more of it than at twenty-eight.'
This is certainly something to think about when the host is older than most of the campers. Some of my desire to avoid 'old man' speech is just pride of course. But it isn't a harmful pride.

What exactly are the characteristics of 'old man' speech: 

  • prefacing stories with, "I remember the time when..."
  • telling looooong stories.
  • complaining about health problems.
  • being oblivious to the Here and the Now. Having no agenda or activity for Today.
  • their favorite is seeing the neighbor start working on a project outdoors. Then they walk up,  and expect you to stop working and listen to them for the next hour. In other words, because they have nothing to do, they expect everybody else to have nothing to do.

But 'old man' speech is just one example of the self-discipline that the host gets a chance to practice on, several times per day:

  • avoiding politics and any other type of divisive conversation. More generally, I try to practice Ben Franklin's habit of Non-Contradiction in conversation.
  • how much talking versus how much listening? 
  • how quickly should the conversation end?
Mostly I have talked about 'thou shalt nots.' The positive topics and habits are less definite and take more thought. Next time.


Ed said…
As an old man I plead guilty to "telling looooong stories". But I did that as a young man also and come by it naturally, it was learned at Mother's knee. I generally avoid the other 4 characteristics of 'old man' speech.
I never noticed you telling long stories.