The art of conversation; guarding and directing one’s tongue

‘It often fills me with shame here to see how readily men demean themselves just for a bit of gossip, how they prate incessantly about their own private affairs to people who don’t deserve it, and who hardly even listen. And the strangest thing about it is that they have no regard whatever for truth; all they want to do is to talk about themselves, whether what they say is true or not. The desire for a good conversation is a very different matter; there is something genuinely intellectual about that. Unfortunately there are few people here who are capable of carrying on a conversation beyond the range of immediate personal concern.’

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison, Letters to a Friend, February 13th 1944

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Mastering desire for the sake of others

‘There is a wholeness about the fully grown man which makes him concentrate on the present moment. He may have unsatisfied desires, but he always keeps them out of sight and manages to master them some way or other. And the more need he has of self-mastery, the more confidence he will inspire among his comrades, especially the younger ones, who are still on the road he has already travelled. Clinging too much to our desires easily prevents us from being what we ought to be and can be. Desires repeatedly mastered for the sake of present duty make us, conversely, all the richer. To be without desire is a mark of poverty. At the moment I am surrounded by people who cling to their desires, so much so that they haven’t any interest for others: they give up listening, and are incapable of loving their neighbour.’

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison, Letters to a Friend, March 19th 1944