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'We are what we talk about': Carlos Lemoine, renowned author of 'The art of conversation'

The Bogotá mathematician hits bookstores with his new publication, 'The art of conversation'.

‘Somos lo que conversamos’: Carlos Lemoine, reputado autor de 'El arte de conversar'
'We are what we talk about': Carlos Lemoine, renowned author of 'The art of conversation' | Image taken from

“The art of conversing, if you look closely, is confused with the art of living and it does us good to be aware of it and appreciate and cultivate that art. We are what we talk about. In addition, we like to talk”, explains the mathematician Carlos Lemoine Amaya, founder of the Institute of Conversation and the Centro Nacional de Consultoría.

Throughout his life as a researcher, Lemoine has been reflecting on this issue. Lemoine now brings together all these variables that make up the dialogue process between people and societies in his new book The Art of Conversation. “This book seeks to express appreciation for the art of conversation. Conversation is an art because it has rules, some of which we seek to discover. It takes work and commitment to her to make her beautiful and inspiring," she notes.

This book is also one more tool that joins the Conversation Institute project, founded by Lemoine, which has been carrying out valuable work in regional schools and towns in the country, seeking to raise awareness about this "art". That goes beyond establishing contact with another person. There are social, business, poetic conversations, with oneself and even with machines.

Is it true that we build our world with our conversation?

Conversation is the environment in which we human beings live. Humberto Maturana, the famous Chilean biologist who dedicated part of his life to the biology of language, coined the aphorism “We live in the world that we create with our conversation”. The aphorism has the scientific backing of biology, but it also coincides with everyday experience, since a good day is defined by one or two pleasant conversations that open paths for us, and a bad day is defined by a disagreement in the conversation. If we build life with our conversations it is because they have power and power generates responsibility. Reciprocally, taking responsibility for our conversations empowers us. That is what the book The Art of Conversation is about.

Precisely, you founded the Institute of Conversation. What does it consist of?

It is not easy to be a person. Humans have built, through thousands of years, a culture in which instincts are not enough to live. If instinct gives birds to build their nests, instinct is not enough for us to build our lives with our conversations. The Conversation Institute seeks to positively unleash the power of conversation and responsibly use its power, as we need training. In the case of Colombia, this training is even more necessary, since the violence in the territories has left a culture of silence that, like a black cloud, reaches the schools.

‘Somos lo que conversamos’: Carlos Lemoine, reputado autor de 'El arte de conversar'

Do companies and communities also need conversation training?

Clear. In the case of companies, the promotion of a culture of dialogue, integrity and compliance accelerates the decisions that the authoritarian culture postpones and it is necessary to train to introduce and maintain a culture of dialogue. The nascent civil society in Colombia has initiated innumerable dialogue processes, but it is far from knowing how to effectively apply conversation based on facts, which becomes actions and transforms reality.

Are there conversations that go beyond the interlocutor in front of us?

Human conversation is not restricted to what we have with our interlocutors. Human beings are aware that life and being are mysteries, and whether we realize it or not, we have a dialogue with that mystery. Taking care of this conversation to keep it positive is like for farmers taking care of the soil, not tiring it, to ensure that the seeds yield a harvest. For the rest, if one considers the immensity of the universe and the care with which it treats us, allowing us to sleep at night, walk, see and think, it is not hard to feel gratitude and friendship with life.

You highlight a key conversation: the one we have with ourselves...

Abraham Lincoln said that he aspired to be a friend of himself at the end of his days. This reflection well expresses our observation of the convenience of being good friends in the conversation we have with ourselves. If this is achieved, the ground is fertile for having a constructive conversation with others.

How to talk to ourselves?

We all often feel our narrow lives. There are many ways to shake that feeling. Perhaps the first is to inhabit our body and hear it. Marguerite Yourcenar said that it is “the body that teaches the soul”. Feeling the body revives us. The conversation with us is easy and flows when we walk. Steve Jobs, to find ways out of difficulties, walked. In some schools, to solve problems, teachers and students walk together until they are solved. Nature permanently sends us messages about its dimension and its beauty. Being attentive to them expands our world.

In short, what are the essential conversations we have?

Martin Buber, a famous Jewish philosopher from the beginning of the last century, postulates that we have three basic conversations: the one we have with life, the one we have with ourselves, and the ones we have with others.

How important is that conversation with others?

In conversation with others we become people. Buber said it beautifully: "The human being needs to be confirmed in his being by the other human being." This is a continuous process that is taking place at each moment in order to be the person of that instant at each moment. At each moment the person represents something new, something that never existed, original and unique. That change is the evanescence of life, always changing and unrepeatable.

What does talking bring us?

From the conversations that we have every moment with ourselves and with life, the motivations that are important emerge because they determine the way we see facts and the construction of our actions. For example, when we are motivated by fear we perceive everything as a threat, when we have hatred we perceive everything as offense.

Also, talking is the basis of human relationships. TRUE?

Clear. Two relationships are worth underlining: That of parents with their children, because in effect, when parents are asked what they find most joyful in life, the most frequent answer is "talking with their children." Reciprocally, the dialogue with the mother remains even after death. As an example, Humberto Maturana, already in his old age, was asked if he had been afraid and he answered no because his mother had always loved him, the internal dialogue with her sustained him.

How should the dialogue with the couple be?

The couple's conversation also expands the world, she is a patchwork of years of building joys, of shared missions, but saying and feeling that we are happy with each other's company is half the process. Two ingredients are added to it: passion and uncertainty. Rilke gives a beautiful look at this last dimension: "Be patient with everything that is not resolved in your heart / Try to love the questions / Do not look now for answers / Which cannot be given because you could not live with them / The point is to live it everything/ Live in the questions now/ Perhaps one day far away, without noticing it, you will live in the answers.”

By the way, is there also a poetic conversation?

I believe that there are two worlds: the factual one that surrounds us, that we can measure and calculate. The poetic conversation refers to that other world of the possible and of evocations. We need poetic conversation to make possible what does not exist. Poetic conversation builds the shared dreams that build teams, unite communities, and connect generations. The American dream is a good example of this. The Pursuit of Happiness is a poetic conversation that builds community. On poetic language there is always modesty to use it. Wislawa Szymborska helps us: for her, the ridicule of writing poems is preferable to not writing them. Companies need poetic language to imagine their possibilities, peoples to build the dreams that unite them. People to approach the meaning of their lives.

You also note that there is an “action talk”. How is that?

A suspicion that one has about the conversation is that it remains in words. It is not like that, there are conversations for action in which commitments are built and the integrity of the people who commit makes them become actions and transformations. The action conversation is simple: someone requests an action from another, the other accepts and promises to fulfill what has been requested, the conditions for fulfilling the request are made clear, and by virtue of his integrity, the promiser fulfills his commitment and close the cycle. (Whoever made the promise making it explicit that they fulfilled it and whoever requested thanking the receipt to the satisfaction of what was requested). The request for an Uber is a good example of the cycle. The action talk can be a huge source of discomfort when care is not taken to close the loop, as is the case with ethnic-government talks, where the government is never careful to close the commitment and the ethnicities for it. they have an account of thousands of commitments that today the government cannot fulfill.

There is precisely a conversation that has changed the history of peoples: peace processes...

Peace talks are based on being able to change the mutual motivations of hatred and destruction for a positive motivation of collaboration and coexistence. Reciprocally, the result of a conversation with life in which it is recognized as generous and a conversation with us as capable of accessing its wealth, makes possible the acceptance of the other and authentic conversation. Looking at our case in perspective, it is evident that the country needs to raise its motivations to build a fresh environment of new ideas.

Another conversation that you highlight is that of democracy. That contribute?

People like to talk about public issues because they are deeply affected by them. When these talks are organized and taken into account by the government, it can be said that democracy works and civil society exists. In areas of violence, for example, people are subjected to a culture of silence that prevents the emergence of a civil society capable of conversing with and influencing governments. Elections take place, but there is no democracy.

Why do you compare the unicorn with political campaigns? What kind of conversation is established there?

Rilke, in a beautiful poem, 'The Unicorn', speaks of the unicorn as an animal that did not exist, that was nourished if it were possible to exist and that this gave the animal strength and made them love it. The electoral campaign is a process in which the candidates talk with the citizens, understand the discomforts of the people, and create for themselves an image of a leader who does not exist and of his government, an image that is gaining strength because the people You are committing to that possibility. That is the art of the campaign and the democratic paradox: creating images that do not exist and that conquer power and flesh and blood leaders faced with real problems that overwhelm and surpass them.

Let's talk about the future. How do you envision the dialogues with the machines?

Turing, the famous English mathematician, conjectured that it was possible to build a computer and that a person conversing with the computer could not tell if he was conversing with a person or with a machine. There is no doubt that we will get closer to it every day. However, there is room for optimism, since everything that humanity has invented has managed to turn it into a mechanism for progress and quality of life. Technology is no exception and has not been, and one can be optimistic that it will continue to be an instrument of progress and that the problems that the species faces today will be able to be solved as it has been done in the past.

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By: Carlos Restrepo

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