In praise of the open-ended conversation
by Andrew Taggart
The open-ended conversation is not a philosophical conversation, but yet it serves an important purpose. Based in dialogue, it implies that both speakers are equals. Being open-ended, it implies that there is no set agenda, no explicit attempt to use another as a means for one’s ends, and no explicit expectations concerning what is to be discovered or accomplished. Understood in these terms, the open-ended conversation may be a way to cultivate new friendships of virtue or to engage in more substantive professional acquaintanceships.
The puzzle for one who aims to lead a philosophical life is how to introduce yourself to a potentially likeminded other without entering into a non-philosophical way. On the one hand, ‘networking’ can be ruled out from the start since it makes the other into a means for my stated or unstated end. On the other hand, being complacent (and so, doing nothing) is no way of being an author of one’s life. The puzzle would seem insolvable, but it may not be.
Lately, I have been intrigued by the possibilities of using LinkedIn. I have been wondering whether it could be used as a gateway to meeting philosophically minded others, especially those living in Europe. “Making a connection” is the first step. Inviting the other to have an open-ended conversation in person or over Skype is the second. The crux to doing the latter well is not to do any research about the other beforehand, only to look at his or her LinkedIn profile to see whether there is the possibility of “likemindedness.” This ensures that when I first speak with the other, I do so without expectations and with a sense of child-like curiosity.
So far, it seems to be working. I am headed to Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands to give some talks and to put on some workshops at the end of the summer.