I recently wrote a piece about the conversation’s climbers have in-between hopping on routes and taking rests.  Writing that piece reminds me of how integral the community aspect of climbing is.  But even more than that, it reminds me of how integral the community aspect of life is.  Not always, but generally things like watching a movie, viewing a sunset, taking a road trip, bouldering, and going out to eat are better when they can be shared with people we care about, or people who hold opinions and thoughts that we care about.  Being able to communicate and engage about a book adds value to the experience, same with movies, and climbing, and almost anything else we can do together.

When I first started teaching, I had a little jar on my desk filled with philosophical quotes, when students came in for a visit, I had them reach in and grab one, and that is where we’d begin any meeting.  “I understand you want to talk about your grade, but first grab a quote.”  “You can’t deal with your schedule?  Interesting, grab a quote.”  “You came all the way up here to grab a quote, excellent, grab a quote.” Good quotes and good questions are conversation starters, and good conversations have to be among the most precious experiences life can offer.  My best nights at the climbing gym, and my best nights on climbing trips are memorable for a bounty of reasons, but chief among those reasons are the great conversations I have been able to share with others.

Let me add that I never understood why some conversations are off limits.  There are these unwritten societal rules that we oughtn’t talk about religion or politics, and heaven forbid we ask someone how much money they earn.  While we’re at it, let’s make sure not to bring up anything remotely related to the topic of sex.  COME ON!  There are politically aligned religious figures involved in sex scandals, and we can’t say anything about that?  WHY?  On the other hand, talking shit about the people around us is totally acceptable and often encouraged.  This whole situation sounds backwards!

With that in mind, allow me to introduce ‘4-Words’.  A new restaurant theme, where conversation and community are equal to food and flavor.  At this imaginary restaurant, the staff will be well versed in tête-à-têtes and will drop interesting remarks and topics as they seat the patrons.  A place where the phrase “can I get you started on something saucy” is as much about the dialogue as it is about the appetizer.  The table clothes will be covered in questions and hypotheticals.  Each bill will come with the quote du jour.

What a fantastic place for a first date.  As you’re about to be seated you hear a question about population control and the possibility of requiring a license for bearing children.  “What’s your favorite color?” who cares?  At 4-Words, you can jump into the good stuff!  If there’s a lull in the conversation, here comes the waiter with your drinks and another zinger to get the wheels turning again.

Of course, our waiters will be well trained in spotting a good conversation as well, there is a time to interject and a time to stay quiet.  Once the wheels have been greased, it’s business as usual.  I ran this idea by a friend of mine1 (between climbs) and he recommended that the taste of the food should correspond with the conversation.  If your conversation is boring, you’re getting bland food.

Customer: Excuse me waiter, I ordered the gnocchi and pesto.

Waiter: Right, I’m sorry, it’s just that I heard you talking about your Instagram followers, so enjoy your Cream of Wheat.

At 4-Words our wait staff doesn’t play!

Now of course all of this is BS, I’m never going to open a restaurant.  Would anyone even go to a restaurant where the underlying assumption is that people are boring and have boring conversations?  I doubt it!

But the point remains, good conversations are part of a good life!  Unfortunately, there isn’t usually someone around to give us a bowl of Cream of Wheat when we lose sight of what a good conversation entails.  In all honesty I’m not exactly sure what makes a conversation “good”.  What I am sure of is that I am better off for all the times between the climbs, the eating, the driving, the reading, and all the other things that we do to entertain ourselves…I’m better off because of the conversations had along the way!

“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”

 – Eleanor Roosevelt

  1. Thanks for the thoughts Cameron!

35 Replies to “4-Words”

  1. My former professor once said that the best/most meaningful conversations do not come from questions that can be easily answered like “What is your favorite color?” (His example was, “what color is your underwear?”) They come from the questions that require more thought – more introspection where you explore a topic. This reminded me of him, and he would have loved this post (as I do), and would be completely down for breaking social taboos and hitting on sex, religion, and politics. All of that to say, I enjoyed this post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I used to tell my students, “Your question might seem interesting right now, but the answer is going to kill the interest.” They would dispute that! Back in the day, I looked really young for my age and their question was “How old are you?” (taboo question) Once they had the answer the whole thing was over. It was a great illustration.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I loved this post — but I don’t want to talk to anyone about politics. religion or sex. They aren’t taboo, but by after 45, I don’t want to hear what others want to say. Terrible, I know. I love that statement by Eleanor Roosevelt. I love it when people talk about ideas and questions and the outside world or something they’ve read.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Martha, I enjoyed that post so much. I was just talking to my honors ethics class about something very similar. They are all getting ready for their research presentations, and were confused to find out how nervous I am before each lesson, and each semester, and each speech. Your response to the lady who stayed after to ask you a question was perfect. Sometimes the importance of the message outweighs the fear of engagement.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That brief interview made my lifelong struggle all worthwhile. She was a grad student in a room full of undergrads. She’d seen the sign posted outside the room where the talk was going to be and put it in her daily planner and showed up.

        Most of the kids in there were business majors there for extra points and most business majors are extroverts. Some were there from their comm class and I had to sign papers saying they’d sat through the whole thing.

        That girl was there for the right reason. I get warm and happy inside just thinking about it. I felt like it was a relay and I had handed her the baton.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I can relate to that notion of “the right reason” to be “there”. Students are really good at gaming a system for points or extra credit or finding a way to sit near someone they would like to meet. But there isn’t much better than the students who squeeze the system for intellectual and educational growth.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I so enjoyed this post. Conversation and food always go hand in hand. The boring conversation goes with a bowl of cream of wheat! ha ha. You should open that restaurant. Or someone should!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Send me a notice of opening night! Please! Even the same old conversation can take an adventurous turn with a new participant or experiences of a new decade. Or maybe just a deeper insight into an old friend. Invite Thomas Jefferson, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Allen, and Jon Meacham as well. 🤪

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Donna, that was a real worry about this fake restaurant…would people come back and for similar conversations? I think you are right, conversations can change over time. Your name is on the list for opening night! Haha, thanks for the comment!


  5. Such a good post… awesome restaurant concept for sure haha, and I LOVE this idea of having a teacher’s jar of quotes! I’m going to carry that one to my desk at work I think! Thank you for sharing! Also that Eleanor Roosevelt quote is one of my faves.


  6. Love this! I really miss my college days when we weren’t on social media as it did not exist and I didn’t even own a cell phone. We were up, often until sunrise, talking… about anything and everything. God, I miss it. Once this pandemic is over, I’m hoping to sing and camp with others. I’m 48 with no kids so finding people my age in a similar situation is difficult. But, I do love the idea of the restaurant and was even laughing out loud at one point. 👍 Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. OMG. OMG. The good conversations are the ones that make your stomach clench and your brain twist because you’re thinking so hard. They’re challenging. They make you dig down to the good stuff. Or the scary stuff. Or the I-didn’t-know-that-was-down-there stuff. And that’s why they’re so hard to find. It’s dark and scary there. But it’s also where the work gets done, and the friendships and families bind — maybe for the first time — in new ways. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think that’s a great idea – the art of conversation seems to be losing ground to the twin ‘arts’ of scrolling and taking insult. I also love the ‘grab a quote’ idea, I really like the additional thinking a good quote provokes, I bet there are other newsletters like this but I recommend signing up to A Word A Day, from wordsmith.org, you learn a new word, the context to use it in and close out with a quote to get the ideas flowing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the recommendation, I’ll check it out right now!!! Also thank you for the comment, I’m happy you liked the post!


  9. I loved this post. Motivationally speaking, run with the idea of putting questions on tablecloths. Dollars make sense and I see minds being stimulated all over the world!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I am a recovering child of the “there are three things you never discuss – politics, paychecks and religion” philosophy of child rearing. Though in reality there were 4 – sex was the other one but we didn’t talk about that at all so the word wasn’t even said as part of what we don’t talk about! It’s uncomfortable trying to normalize these important conversations but it’s such meaningful work and will hopefully get us to a place where we can appreciate value and listen to others points of view, diminish the stigmas and embarrassment about perfectly normal human things and things we have no control over. Thank you for writing this. I’d make a reservation at that restaurant!

    Liked by 1 person

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