The Art of Conversation

conversation

There are some people who simply love to talk, about anything and everything.  You either know one, or you are one.  I am one.  I love to talk coupled with a love of learning… I’m always ready to engage.  However, sometimes my love of conversation engagement will get me into hot water.   I definitely have subjects where my opinions are set & it would take a miracle to change my point of view.  On the other hand, I have subjects where I am happy to admit that I lack any real knowledge with an eagerness to learn.  Some days, admittedly I am not in the mood to talk at all (that’s my inner introvert saying ENOUGH with the gabby gabs!).  On most topics I will generally land somewhere in the middle.  I know a little, willing to learn more, and you may even change my opinion.

So, how do I end up getting myself in hot water?  At first, I really wasn’t sure.  I thought I was a good conversationalist.  I listen, ask questions, and share my perspective.  I may get animated but rarely overbearing.  I generally don’t try to force my opinion on someone, but would rather ask questions that will move them to think differently about the subject on their own.  If I can help someone learn or change their perspective, that is great.  But if not, it’s fine… let’s order up another coffee and move on to something else.  My feelings are not hurt if a conversation is going no where and you want to end it, or jump to something more interesting. 

I also consider myself a fairly open book, I think you can ask me just about anything and I’ll answer you.  As a whole, I don’t think I have ever received a question as someone passing judgement.  Nor, do I despise unsolicited advice.  In fact, the only time unsolicited advice gets me riled up is when you interrupt me before I can even share that I found a solution.  These are all attributes that I think make up a good conversationalist, and I expect those that I converse with to have these same attributes.

And that expectation lands me in hot water, over and over again.   What I realized is that the issue was not necessarily with me but instead the decline of true conversation.  We are losing the art of conversation and instead embracing the art of debate.  Listening shifted from being a tool for learning and into a tool for debate.  We don’t listen to learn or gain perspective, instead we listen to respond.  We are building up our argument as the person is talking versus allowing ourselves to really hear what they are trying to convey.  This is what I believe has led us to a place where we are talking in circles far more often than we should.

When we are talking in circles it means that both sides are unwilling to hear the other person and continue to make their points over and over again.  We want to be heard, but we are not willing to hear.

In my experiences this has led people into reading more into my statements or comments than there really is.  You see, I believe a question can be just that a question.  It can be rooted in curiosity, branching out for more clarity, or an attempt to glean some fruit of knowledge I lacked.  Some questions are for the sake of keeping the conversation going, even if we are not interested in it the topic, we are showing respect to the person talking.   I believe questions and conversations can exist free of judgment and intolerance.  Well, I believed that at one time.

I was worried at first it was just something that was happening in social media.  I mean, really, how much clarity can your statement have if you are limited to 140 characters?  As my husband points out, social media lacks the opportunity to read body language and hear vocal tones.  It is easy to misunderstand or misinterpret written conversation, questions, and intentions.  I recall a time where typing in all caps on the internet was considered yelling at a person.  Current generations don’t see it that way at all.  Just like social media, texting and emails present the same issues.

In recent years, however, I have begun to notice the art of conversation is being lost in face to face conversations.  We can blame it on the increasing levels of political correctness, or the fact that is seems like everyone is offended by something.  My nine year old had a friend over to play the other day, and I can assure you there were at least ten instances where I heard her friend state: “I am offended by that…” in one phrasing or another.

Simple questions, or even complex ones, are being perceived as personal attacks and judgement.  Conversation is shut down because instead of taking the time to answer questions, we become quick to accuse the person of some wrong doing, ignorance, or jump right into slander/name calling. 

A few years ago, I remember having a conversation with another mom.  She had some rules for her kids that were pretty strict.  One day, when I was at her home, I asked what I thought was a simple question out of curiosity.  It appeared she had decided to loosen up the reigns on one of her rules and I was curious about how she came to that decision.  Instead, she took my question as judgement on her parenting.  She answered my question, but there was a tension the rest of our visit. 

Only a few months ago I was attempting to engage on a hot button, controversial topic.  I stated a truth, from my perspective, which was that the topic didn’t particularly relate to my life experiences.  I shared however that I had friends who did experience this issue in their lives, and they can’t agree with each other on how it needs to be addressed.  I then followed my statement with the question:  “If those who are directly impacted by this topic can’t agree, how am I supposed to respond in support?”.   And that is when the eruption began of insults hurled at me, accusations, and other terrible things.  I retracted my question and slunk away from the topic.  There was not going to be any conversation in that arena.

Even just this past week, I asked a question about ministry service and leadership… and according to the people in the conversation I should expect Jesus to take my Christian Membership Card back any day now.  To even pose such a question and take an intellectual look at the scripture was some sort of indicator of witchcraft.  Yes, I was accused of witchcraft for asking a question, about biblical leadership, and using bible verses in my question. 

What I have found is that the lost art of conversation isn’t confined to one area.  It is lost in the written and the spoken word.  The art of conversation has been lost on subjects about day to day living, and in large platform forums.  The irony is that when whenever something big is happening, and we look to resolve it, someone always says that we need to “have a conversation” or that a particular incident has “started a conversation”.  But, I can’t help and wonder … has it?

Are we even capable of having real conversations anymore?  Can we discuss subjects with out taking things personally or as attacks on our character?  It is possible to navigate through the tough topics without assuming the person coming from the other side isn’t genuine or is incapable of understanding?  Can we talk without hurling accusations and talking down to others?  Can we disagree on a subject and yet respect each other?  Did we forget that we can understand another person’s position without actually agreeing with them?

Fortunately, I do have a handful of women that I can have conversations with.  I do miss being able to do it on a broader scale, because that is where I am most challenged about my own beliefs and opinions.  It is where I will learn the most, from others who have a different experience or education level than myself.  Maybe if we could restore the art of conversation, there would be a lot more understanding and a lot less being offended in the world.  Because, then we would be listening to understand instead of listening to argue.

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