Stealing vs. Exploring: Conversations Styles

2 Conversation StylesWhat type of conversation style do you use? Stealing or Exploring ?  When talking with someone, what is your primary way of responding to their conversation?


“Stealing” is when your conversation partner says something, but then you find something in your own life that relates to their words and change the conversation to tell your own story.  Your partner does the same.  Each steals the conversation into their own arena. For example:

Partner:  I went to New York City this weekend — it was great!

You: Oh, I went to NYC 2 years ago, we had a great meal in China Town

Partner:  My friend lived in China for three years and has learned to cook superb Chinese dishes.

You: My sister was so good at cooking that she gave up her teaching position, graduated from a Culinary school and now has her own restaurant.

Partner:  My God, speaking of starting your own business, I am still working on my plans for opening that Yoga school.


When your partner says something, you pursue her/his conversation by asking a few questions to really understand or explore what they are trying to share.  Keep the conversation in their arena for a while.  For example:

Partner: We went to New York this weekend — it was great!

You: What are some of the places you visited?

Partner:  We visited my son’s sound studio in the Bronx first.

You: Oh my gosh, I didn’t know you son did that sort of work.  How long has he done it?

Partner:  For about 3 years now — he specializes in recording Jazz artists.c

You:  Does he play instruments himself?

Partner:  He is a drummer and often accompanies some of the artists.

You: That is amazing.  Did your son then show you some more places in town?

Most conversations are, of course, a mix of these two styles but my experience is that most conversations use the Stealing Style 90% of the time:  each person grabs the conversation into their own court and only occasionally asks a follow-up question.  These people are not really listening, but waiting to get on about themselves.  No one really explores their conversation partner to any depth.  Even when people do go into the Exploring Style, they rarely go more that 2 to 3 questions deep in the exploration before they get into self-talk.

Even when I was in High School, I was cynical about people’s superficial conversations and that was only amplified when, in 11th grade, I read “Ego Speak: Why No One Listens to You” by Edmond Addeo and Robert Burger.  I just found the book on-line and will be re-reading it to see if I am impressed again and maybe share it with my son.  I do wager that Conversation Stealing is mentioned in the book as one of the biggest types of Ego Speak.

Am I Biased?

Wait, what if I am being snobbish in my judgement of the “Stealing Style” conversations.  Here are some self-doubt what-if’s:

  • What if instead of “Stealing Style” I less-pejoratively called it “Sharing Style” — would that change your perception?
  • What if the people in the conversation don’t want to be explored too deeply?
  • What if the listener doesn’t want to be perceived as nosey or pushy?
  • What if the “Sharing Style” is more like a fun ping-pong game to some people.  Maybe they aesthetically prefer that style.
  • What if the “Sharing Style” is less threatening and more interesting to most people?

Valorizing Temperaments

So you can see in this post that I am resisting (a bit) valorizing my own temperament.  I highly value Exploring Style conversations, but I think that may be largely temperament.  In this post I talked about the danger of valorizing the Skepticism temperament.  I am trying to be skeptical of my conversation tendency but not too skeptical.  In this post, I discuss “The Juggernaut of Habit”, and here I am questioning my habit of conversation.  So, please introspect in the comments on your conversation temperament and habits.

Question to Readers:  What percentages of styles do you use most commonly?


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Various Religiousity

It is very clear to me (both when I was a Christian and now), how the religiosity of two Christians can be very different from each other, even when they confess the same theology.  This applies to any religion, of course. This is because people knit together their packages of religion very differently.  See my posts on Religion as Moral Signalling and as Entertainment.

Here are just some of the varieties of Religiosity:

  • Good Citizen Religiosity: For some, the moral signaling is important (“I am a good person. I am an upstanding community member. I am a team player.”),
  • Fearful Religiosity: for some, putting off the fear of death and meaninglessness may be more important,
  • Prosperity Religiosity: for some, the desire for safety and prosperity (using the magic of prayer and belief) may be central.
  • Happy Religiosity: for some, the warm fuzzy feelings they get talking to their God, singing in choir, celebrating holidays with family or community activities.

Below I illustrate these four types, for instance, but you can imagine many more examples.  The larger traits at the top are those that have the greatest influence in that person’s religious life (inner and outer). This illustrates how the abstract package called “Religion” comes in many different combinations:

Functions of Religion many people Conclusions:

  • When trying to understand a religious person (or yourself), you have to understand the various functions that “religion” serves in their life.
  • Do not assume religion to merely be a set of beliefs — it functions at a much deeper level.
  • Most people hold their theology lightly (though they may confess otherwise) and their theology is almost always subservient to these deeper functions.

Related Posts:


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Poetry: Theodore Roethke


by Theodore Roethke

I saw a young snake glide
Out of the mottled shade
And hang, limp on a stone:
A thin mouth, and a tongue
Stayed, in the still air.

It turned; it drew away;
Its shadow bent in half;
It quickened, and was gone.

I felt my slow blood warm.
I longed to be that thing,
The pure, sensuous form.

And I may be, some time.

Frau Bauman, Frau Schmidt, and Frau Schwartze

by Theodore Roethke

Gone the three ancient ladies
Who creaked on the greenhouse ladders,
Reaching up white strings
To wind, to wind
The sweet-pea tendrils, the smilax,
Nasturtiums, the climbing
Roses, to straighten
Carnations, red
Chrysanthemums; the stiff
Stems, jointed like corn,
They tied and tucked,-
These nurses of nobody else.
Quicker than birds, they dipped
Up and sifted the dirt;
They sprinkled and shook;
They stood astride pipes,
Their skirts billowing out wide into tents,
Their hands twinkling with wet;
Like witches they flew along rows
Keeping creation at ease;
With a tendril for needle
They sewed up the air with a stem;
They teased out the seed that the cold kept asleep,-
All the coils, loops, and whorls.
They trellised the sun; they plotted for more than themselves.

I remember how they picked me up, a spindly kid,
Pinching and poking my thin ribs
Till I lay in their laps, laughing,
Weak as a whiffet;
Now, when I’m alone and cold in my bed,
They still hover over me,
These ancient leathery crones,
With their bandannas stiffened with sweat,
And their thorn-bitten wrists,
And their snuff-laden breath blowing lightly over me in my first sleep.

See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

About Author: Wiki on Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963)

My thoughts: I love introspective poems, and here, he adds the strong flavor at the end.

Source: Both from Writer’s Almanac: July 18th and July 22nd 2015

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Poetry: Emily Dickinson

The Props assist the House

by Emily Dickinson

The Props assist the House
Until the House is built
And then the Props withdraw
And adequate, erect,
The House support itself
And cease to recollect
The Auger and the Carpenter-
Just such a retrospect
Hath the perfected Life-
A past of Plank and Nail
And slowness-then the Scaffolds drop
Affirming it a Soul.


See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

About Author: Wiki on Emily Dickinson

My thoughts:  Though I am not “soul” believer, as I say in my post entitled “The Will to say ‘No’“: if there were a soul, I like Gurdjief’s notion of growing a soul — or building one as Dickinson alludes to.


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Religion-Free Moral Signaling

Functions of ReligionReligious people often use their religion to signal to themselves and others that they are moral, upright, trustworthy and more.  But religion-free people (atheists, agnostics etc) also send out moral signals.Here are some secular methods to signal your virtues:

  • Politics: (depending on the audience, declaring your political allegiance can have this affect.
  • Diet:  Vegetarians often reek of this.  (I am a former vegetarian, see my confession here)
  • Philosophy:  Talking about ethics and morality are a signal, no matter how false.  (see prev. post)
  • Sports:  Heck, even declaring oneself a sports fan can signal identity, bonds and allegiances (all part of morality).
  • Consumption Habits:  Environmentalists, Recyclers etc use their positions as signals

You see, we all signal our morality in some way.  Religious folks usually include this signaling in their abstract package of religion as I illustrated in the diagram to the right (from this post).  By using religion as their packaging, they feel they can amplify their signal. The problem with religious vs. secular signaling is that, for the most part, religions discourage questioning of the package, of the values or of any doctrine.  Whereas secular folks, though signaling, are much more open to discussing and questioning their signals — but that is an intuition, I can’t quote an article to support my impression.

Question to readers:  Name others secular signals you can imagine.  What do you feel about my last claim?

— See my other posts on Morality here.


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Meta-Ethics: two articles

Here are two articles on Ethics that agree with my primary insights into Ethics and Morality.

(1) Alex Rosenberg: Duke University philosopher: Can Moral Disputes Be Resolved (NYT)

His conclusion, like mine, leave many uncomfortable: “Many people will not find this a satisfactory outcome. They will hope to show that even if moral judgments are expressions of our emotions, nevertheless at least some among these attitudes are objective, right, correct, well justified.”

(2) Eric Schwitzgebel: Univ. of Calif. at Riverside philosopher: Cheeseburger Ethics: Are professional ethicists good people? (Aeon)

According to our research, not especially. So what is the point of learning ethics?  This article shows research showing that our intuitions about morality are wrong.

My Ethical Positions (backed in part by these articles):

  • There are no absolute moral positions, no matter how deceptively clear it is to our intuitions that there must be moral truths.
  • Talking about morals is usually just a way to try to signal others and ourselves that we are good and safe.
  • Ethics/Morals are temporary, tenuous agreements between peoples who share goals.
  • For those interested in Meta-Ethical philosophical terms, I am probably an anti-realist, non-cognitivist, relativist (but not a moral nihilist). See Wiki on Meta-Ethics


See my other posts on Ethics and Morality here.


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Defining “Scientism”

No worries, this is not yet another post on the term.

Instead I found this 2014 article by John Shook (philosopher) who lists 26 possible “definitions” (read: uses) for the “Scientism” while laying out how this abstraction is (like others) inevitably packed with polemics, rhetoric and agenda.  I am just adding it to the list of abstractions we need to be aware of.  Don’t let abstract words trick you: the ones you use on your own agendas (where you persuade yourself) or those used to persuade you.

— See my other posts on The Limits of Abstractions here.

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