Emotional Intelligence · Reality

Conversation In Goethe’s Time, And Ours.

Goethe lived at a time when, according to Rudolf Steiner, most people thought in the manner of Aristotle. That is to say, broad brush strokes that today would be scorned as generalities. Indeed, were someone to speak with Goethe today, they would be frustrated with his unwillingness to be specific. But then, such a person would find his own contemporaries just as frustrating because the way in which they were specific did not accord with their own.

A true conversation is a breathing process, but one that would not be recognized by any medical doctor! For breathing is a term that can be applied more broadly to other activities, like conversation, that involve the etheric realm. If this is not a term you have met before, worry not, as I usually express myself using familiar words to let them describe what is going on, rather than expecting you to struggle with unfamiliar terms or ideas. It’s my way of having a conversation with someone I can’t actually see; explaining such things is also why my posts often meander from the central topic at hand.

For in this respect a conversation is an inbreathing of what someone else has said, and an outbreathing of one’s own response to them. This is a far from common occurrence however. An example of this is when I was in a cafe in Aachen enjoying coffee with a friend. Someone overheard us and introducing himself as Peter, asked to join us at our table and started a conversation. Naturally, it wasn’t the one we were having, but no matter, for our new friend did say he would be brief. He asked me my job, and I said that I was retired. In response I asked him his, only to be met with silence. That is to say, his response was barred by an antipathy he had toward my response. Now antipathies are strange beasts that colour many a conversation! I cannot say for certain why he refused to respond, though I have my own ideas about it which I expressed to my companion Jasper afterward.

The other telling side of the conversation was that he held the reigns. On mentioning a story that had brought some hilarity to my previous conversations with Jasper, our acquaintance dismissed this in favour of what he wished to say. In other words, Peter was not doing much by way of inbreathing. That is to say, he held some Antipathies.

Sympathy And Antipathy.

For Peter was comfortable in his own sphere, and uncomfortable with others. Keeping to his realm, he was able to retain his dignity – but the problem was that he wouldn’t let others speak of things outside this. Thus he spoke only from his own Sympathy.

Because the ideas he was sharing were all concerned with electricity, I spoke of the possibility of failures in the power supply, after all, electricity is not something that occurs naturally in any form. However, these were swiftly dismissed as being details that were, in his opinion, of no importance. Again, he withdrew in front of an Antipathy. I am sure that many of you might agree with him, given the pervasive nature of electricity in our modern world. After all, without it you’d not be reading this. The other side of the coin is that Peter and myself could have had our conversation without electricity, though it would have been cold outside and there would have been no coffee. I had been unable to take many photographs that day because my new camera had run out of battery power, so power failure was something of a sore point at that moment.

The real issue here is that I attempted to express an idea and it was dismissed out of hand.

Now it is true that I am often countered with details – but I do not see these as Antipathies. I can give a direct answer concerning a detail, with the intent of satisfying the other person whilst keeping the conversation on topic. In other words, acknowledging and responding to the sympathy of the other. You can begin to see that Sympathy is what holds a conversation together, and Antipathy keeps it interesting.

A good conversation is therefore one where Sympathy and Antipathy are in balance. That is to say, where all involved are breathing in and out steadily.


The point of this post is that most people are not fully aware of what leads them to hold Antipathies. I am sure this is true of Peter, for were he more aware, he would have had the confidence to speak of his job. I have met this first hand when asking someone their work only for them to recoil as if they were a tortoise withdrawing its head into its shell!

Conversation Today.

In the time of Goethe – that is to say, a little more than two hundred years ago – such Antipathies held far less power in the mind. For the ability to converse with another on equal terms is to converse with the other without the barriers of Sympathy or Antipathy. Objectivity, by any other name. However the real problem we face today is that most Antipathies and no few Sympathies are not within one’s ability to perceive. If you have read the above carefully, you will begin to see that bringing such issues to full consciousness – that is to say, beginning to perceive what one cannot yet perceive – will direct one to a point where one will meet these very Antipathies! The very thought of entering into a conversation will raise the fear of them, and so people come to prefer their newspaper.

The other side of this is to recognize when someone is holding something back. For holding something back implies an Antipathy of which they are unaware. Were they aware, they would not hold back, would they? They would have dealt with it! This activity can be thought of as recognizing something in oneself.

Evidence of Antipathies.

The First: Nobody May Reply. So take note if someone is lecturing to others, for they will admit nobody to counter them. That is to say, their Antipathies are so strong that they are literally terrified of what others may say.

The Second: Nobody Can Reply. The blandness of management speak is vague and airy with the sole reason that nobody can challenge it. That is to say, countering them is impossible because there is only thin air to counter. Arguments against such things simply do not exist.

The Third: Everybody Can Agree. Lovely pictures of fluffy kittens and butterflies are beautiful to all. Everyone can agree to this, save those who are downright evil (me). (Haha!) In saying something that means anything to anybody, nobody need say anything in response.

When you recognize any of the above situations, you will realize that the person you are speaking with wishes to dispel true conversation. Watch out for them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s