Why Are There So Few Great Craftspeople and Great Conversationalists?

calvin & hobbes on conversation
Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson, from It’s a Magical World
I think every generation laments the loss of what it considers important skills from one generation to the next. Some of this is nostalgia, and some of it is simply due to changing societal needs and expectations. What I have noticed, in my own generation especially, is an apparent loss of skill at making things well, and at conversing precisely and articulately.

I make a habit of buying Canadian-made products, even though they tend to cost more than the predominant Chinese-made crap. And while Canadian-made products are better, I could excuse people for believing they’re not good enough to warrant the higher price. The suits and sweaters I buy tend to last twice as long as the cheap imports, but that’s not saying much. Frayed seams, buttons falling off, and lack of durability seem to be the rule. Canadian-made furniture now shows some of the same sloppiness in the finishes, the same roughness of construction, and inability to stand up to normal wear and tear. And anything with moving parts, from jewelry to bird-feeders, seems to fall apart in record time.

My generation tends to blame all this on lack of pride, but I’m not so sure. When I return Canadian-made products that are prematurely broken or worn, I am usually surprised at how embarrassed, and quick to fix the problem, the manufacturer or craftsperson is. I’m left to conclude that the problem has two causes:

  1. not enough people take the time to return unsatisfactory products, and 
  2. most people don’t get enough practice to become really good at what they do.

Both these problems are self-compounding. If no one returns poorly-made goods, the poor processes that cause the poor construction are left unchallenged and unchanged. And if only a few are willing to pay extra for Canadian-made products, relatively fewer of them will be made, and the producers will have less opportunity to learn from their mistakes and hone their skills.

Lack of practice is also, I think, the principal reason that our conversational skills are declining. The generations following mine are content to talk (and text) much faster than we do, and arrive at an understanding by a sort of successive approximation. It is easier, and just as fast, to say things badly at first and then, as others respond, correct yourself. Most of us, as Pascal once said, blather on at length because we “don’t have the time to make it shorter” anymore. And as the cartoon above suggests, the subjects of most modern conversations are such that being clearly understood or persuasive in your communication is not often very important. So, without practice at conversing well, we never acquire good conversational skills. In fact, our poor quality (but frequent) conversations tend to reinforce bad conversational habits.

I don’t know that there’s any solution to this, other than, one person at a time, deciding to Let-Self-Change, to learn lost skills and practice getting better. Just as losing these skills is self-compounding, re-acquiring them is its own reward. Learning to make things well, for yourself, will make you more self-sufficient and more self-confident, and can provide an example that will spur others to do likewise. Learning to converse well will make you more popular and will also help you to think better, more constructively and critically, to listen better, and to write better. For each of us, this is a matter of reaching a tipping point at which we’re no longer willing to put up with being lousy at things that are important, and no longer willing tobe dependent on others for things we should be able to do for ourselves.

I think I’m there.

Category: Let-Self-Change
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4 Responses to Why Are There So Few Great Craftspeople and Great Conversationalists?

  1. Doug Alder says:

    You missed the most obvious reason Dave – competition by cheap imports. In order to compete, even though they charge higher prices, the belief, and reigning practice is that of more and more shortcuts need to be taken, shoddier merchandise is of course the end result. Companies need to concentrate on extremely well made goods but then there may not be enough of a market for them to grow and survive. It’s an ugly trap.

  2. Mariella says:

    There is another thing that really bothers me : “loudness” I was wondering if, while aging, I´am getting more intolerant to noise, but it seems to me that high volume is needed to avoid thought…. or fill vacuums of being, lately I realized I was not enjoying going to the cinema…. and I discovered it is because of the absurdly high volume…. the basses make everything tremble…. does it happens that way in Canada too….? I find noise very toxic in every sense.

  3. Marty says:

    I am also very interested in what makes for good quality conversation. I recently read a very short book, Learning Through Discussion, that emphasizes the idea that learning (and consequently good conversation) starts with an empathetic listener. The authors unpack the idea further as follows: “the following are things that all of us do some of the time and some of us do all of the time, and that we should all try to do less of the time:When we compare ourselves with others, we tend not to listen. When we try to second-guess what others are saying, we tend not to listen. When we rehearse, we tend not to listen. When we judge people negatively (communist, right-winger, stupid), we tend not to listen. When we tend to adopt what other people say in order to talk, we tend not to listen. When we give advice, we tend not to listen. When we placate (be nice, always agree, never get involved), we tend not to listen.”I shared this list with my spouse, and we are now observing that we both do this. I would add that the components of good conversation, which include empathy, listening skills, courage and a sense of humor–also calls for a certain level of awareness and self-observation.

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