Oct 5, 2011

The Art of Conversation

At the risk of getting all Miss Mannersy on you, we really need a National Conversation Initiative.  There is at least as big a conversation crisis in this country as there are drug and education crises, and the three may be related.

What typically passes for conversation these days goes something like this:

Jan: "How've you been?"

Angie: "OK, my brother came to visit last weekend."

Jan: "My sister came to visit, too! She has a new boyfriend.  We haven't met him yet but she's really into him.  She has a new job in marketing.  She told me about a great new book she's reading so I'm going to read it when she's done."...and on and on.  Angie is now leaning back on her heels and waiting for the wind to subside.

What went wrong here?  The first is when Angie failed to ask how Jan is.  That's Conversation 101.  "How are you?"  "Fine, and you?"  The second is when Jan took the idea of siblings coming to visit as her turn to toss in everything she could think of even remotely connected to the subject.  Not to ask everything she could think of, but to say everything she could think of.  No, no, no, no, no!

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I am certainly not the standard bearer in conversation. I, too, fail to ask questions, fail to engage the other person, get too involved in telling my story, and just generally take up too much airspace.  I am fully to blame in our national conversation crisis.  But look at what we all lose when we allow monologue to pass for conversation.

We don't connect.  We don't learn about each other or ourselves.  For that matter, we don't learn much of anything.  And then we feel isolated and go home and check our email for human contact.  Those online snippets of 'conversation' become the main points of contact we have with other people. We pour another glass of wine, play another game of Bejeweled, and wonder why our attention span is shrinking to that of a flea on speed.

People who are genuinely interested in you, who ask endless questions, never look at the clock, have no deadlines more important than their time with you, are so rare and almost shocking when we meet them.  What if we all tried to be that person?

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