How excited I was when I began to read this book a few days ago and realized that someone else had been thinking about the historical and root meaning of our word 'conversation.' I just recently researched the etymology of the Latin conversatio since I was using the term to name what we are hoping to do at the Harvey Center! As I wrote there a few months ago: "the most important factor in developing the minds of our young people is to provide them an atmosphere of learning in humility to God. It is a life that must be modeled and passed on with love and care. This best happens in a place like a family, or a small school, where the student is known and loved as a whole person. We want to encourage the parents and other members of the extended family to study along with their students, and to read and discuss great literature together." Yes, we want to encourage thoughtful, life-changing conversatio!Words are entrusted to us as equipment for our life together, to help us survive, guide, and nourish one another.... A large, almost sacramental sense of the import and efficacy of words can be found in early English usage, where conversation appears to have been a term that included and implied much more than it does now: to converse was to foster community, to commune with to dwell in a place with others. Conversation was understood to be a life-sustaining practice, a blessing, and a craft to be cultivated for the common good. (p. 2)
During the Middle Ages the term conversatio morum was used by the Benedictine monks to refer to their life of constantly turning together toward God. Conversatio morum is a vow to a continual change of heart, a daily reshaping of the mind and heart according to God’s will.
I like to think of the idea behind our English word "conversation" by focusing on the meaning of the Latin, conversatio: a constant turning together, a way of life. To quote again from McEntyre's book, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies:
When we converse, we act together towards a common end, and we act upon one another. Indeed, conversation is a form of activism--a political enterprise in the largest and oldest sense-- a way of building and sustaining community. (p. 89)