“…they have little taste for conversation, which especially seems to be the mark and cause of friendship.”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
One of the most notable aspects of Aristotle’s understanding of true friendship is just how much it requires of a person. In this quotations he is speaking of those who are not really fit for friendship.
Thomas Aquinas, in explaining Aristotle’s words, offers the following assessment: “They have little taste for conversation with others both because they are intent on themselves and because they are suspicious of others.” He adds: “presuming on themselves, they follow their own way.”
These clauses especially jump out: “they are intent on themselves,” and “they follow their own way.”
I am ashamed to say that when I read these clauses, I immediately think of people I know: other than myself. We can all think of a person with whom we’ve had a conversation, wherein it starts to dawn on us that he has no real interest in what we have to say. He is intent on himself. At the end of the day, he follows his own way.
The more pertinent question is: how often am I guilty of this?
How often is my conversation an exercise in hearing myself think out loud, or a seeking to make a certain impression on others? How often in conversation am I primarily focused on being heard, and thus am I really just intent on myself?
Yes, we all need to be heard. But nonetheless real conversation requires that I not be intent on myself. Indeed, if each of us is to be heard, each of us needs to be intent on the other.
Not only does true conversation—the conversation that is most characteristic of true friends—require that we carve out a special space in our overly busy and noisy days. Even more, it requires an elusive and only hard-won interior disposition of being intent on the good of others.
I think I will examine my conversations this week, asking myself: on what am I intent? I will begin with my conversations with my wife, and others to whom I am closest.
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Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Nicomachean Ethics is his major ethical work.
Image: Enoch Wood Perry (1831-1915), Talking it Over