Where are the conversations?
In politics, conversations where people have differing views are impossible. People scream at each other. No one is listening to the other side. Democrats are outraged at Republicans. Republicans push agendas in spite of the public outcries. No one is listening! How do we have conversations that move us toward healing and understanding?
In our everyday life we talk on cell phones while sitting with our friends and family. We only speak with people who think and talk as we do. Our children text their friends instead of going to visit them. If someone has an idea you don’t like, you unfriend them on Facebook. We tweet in 10 words or less. Even with our friends fear keeps us from authentic conversations because we are trying to uphold our image. How will we ever understand each other if we don’t listen and try to understand the other person’s point of view?
A Real Conversation
Recently I had a disagreement with a friend of 20 years. Confused about my feelings and afraid I would not be heard I did not address the issue, “race”. At the time I tried desperately to ignore racist comments, but one day finally I exploded. How do I talk about a topic that I had so many confused feelings about? Would my friend understand? What would I say? Should I even bother? Finally we spoke. In my heart I knew she had not meant to hurt me, but it still hurt. After the initial awkwardness of the conversation it was easier to speak, but to also listen. I heard more than her words. I heard her story. Getting to a better place of understanding meant having to work through my discomfort, awkwardness, and anger. It also meant she was willing to do the same. We both had to listen with understanding, compassion and the belief in the other persons humanity .
Fundamental Belief of Caring
Conversations, especially difficult ones require a belief that the other person cares and wants to understand. So often our identities create walls that make it easy to see others as evil or other, not like us. Good conversations break through that wall of otherness. They are a step toward understanding. We adults and our children need to learn better conversation skills. How do we incorporate conversational skills into our children’s education. Not just how to talk, but how to really listen and show genuine interests in others.
Conversation skills are one of the most important skills that we can teach our children, and judging by conversations going on today we have not done a very good job. All children, not just those on the autism spectrum or with language disabilities need help to develop good skills. How can we teach this new generation to listen in the face of technology that makes it even more difficult to hear? Not only to listen but to listen with compassion and openness when it is so hard to do it ourselves.
Celeste Headlee, a host on public broadcasting program called “On Second Thought,” talks conversation with anyone.
At Long on Language we work to improve communication. If you have ideas or want to comment on this topic, I would love to hear from you. I will be speaking more about developing guideline for communication at home and in the classroom that develop conversation skills.