From Jeffersonian dinners to group chats, reviving the lost art of conversation

“Wow, did you hear about what [person you do not care about] did last night? He [drunk action you do not care about], and everyone put it on their Snap stories.”

“Yeah I did. Hey, remember that time [genuinely meaningless intoxicated interaction] happened?”

(Repeat until you both retreat to the warm comfort of Instagram)

According to all of those college brochures your mom left on your desk senior year, college students spend their days sitting on the grass having passionate discussions about Proust and post-colonialism. But more likely than not, you have probably found yourself eavesdropping or participating in a conversation more like this one. Aside from the occasional classroom debate, it seems that college students today may indulge in cotton-candy conversations much more often than the meaty ones: easy to consume but ultimately completely insubstantial.

Conversations that consist of anecdotes about times that you’ve gotten drunk or generic responses mumbled while scrolling through your Facebook feed are hardly the pinnacle of human interaction and thought. When the conversations end, you’ve learned nothing about the other person, yourself or the world.

In a time of emoji sentiments and Facebook flame wars, is the art of conversation dead? The way we speak to each other nowadays seems a world removed from the conversations that some of our country’s founders enjoyed.

Thomas Jefferson, whose 274th birthday falls on Thursday, would have been particularly disappointed. The third president, known for his role in purchasing both Louisiana and other human beings (with a recent boost in popularity thanks to a smash Broadway musical), was an avid supporter of intellectual conversation.

Jefferson enjoyed inviting people to his house for what would become known as Jeffersonian Dinners, parties of four to eight people that centered on a single topic of conversation. Jefferson encouraged his guests to engage in heated discussions and strived to create energetic conversation between political and ideological adversaries. His hope was that, through meaningful conversation, guests from all sides of the political and social spectrum would find common ground.

We can learn a great deal about conversation from these dinners. Great conversations require a diversity of ideas and a willingness to listen to ideas that make us uncomfortable. They also require us to be comfortable with challenging each other, calling out inconsistencies and weak arguments. Great conversations are impossible without a degree of disagreement.

Truly meaningful conversations take real effort. The ease of casual, brief conversations make them a mindless part of our everyday lives, but genuine conversations can be transformative. Jeffersonian Dinners were planned, organized and regulated; they didn’t just happen on the spot. As college students, we would benefit from putting forth the same effort toward our own interactions. So sharpen your wits, dust off your talking points and set the table for some interesting conversation.


Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.