The Art of Conversation

What’s it like to have a conversation with a friend where you feel like you learn something about your friend, you learn something about yourself, and you see the world in an entirely new way?

I’m grateful to have had a number of conversations like that. One was a conversation with one of my best friends, Andrew. We were in a forest, taking a well-earned moment to rest and talk, and watch our camp groups having fun on a low ropes course we had set up early that morning. The conversation was about how we can make life the best it can be while we are alive. It felt like more than just words, too, because we had just made something together. We had an idea for setting up our own low ropes course, and we made it happen, all in the span of a day. The conversation really changed the way I viewed what true friendship and sharing of dreams can do.

I just listened to a talk by a radio host named Celeste Headlee. She gives 9 tips for better conversations, but said that if you just take one and master it, it will make you a better conversationalist.

I’m doing one of those things right now. “If you want to pontificate, write a blog,” she said. She said that conversations are for listening, for a balance between talking and listening, for push-back and learning.

One other thing she mentioned is harder (for me, at least) to follow.

#6 “Don’t equate your experience with theirs.”

There is legitimate sharing. However, there’s a difference between sharing common experiences and sharing a big celebration or a big loss. In times like those, it’s best not butt in, equating your experience with theirs. Some times, it’s best just to listen, because, “It’s not the same, it is never the same.” And how are you going to understand their unique experience if you’re too busy trying to explain what you felt in a similar, but different, situation? There’s a time and place for the universal. Everyone suffers. And everyone’s situation is a little bit different.

This goes for teachers, too. I’ve heard it from a number of veteran teachers that the best thing to do with your students is to have a conversation.



How’s Your Heart Doing Today?

I hope that no matter whether your heart is aching, or joyful, you take the time to feel it and know that it’s okay to feel it because you are a human being.

In this culture, one of the first questions we ask each other is, “So, what do you do?” Yet, the heart is what really connects us. Certainly the heart and what you do are linked. However your heart is in this moment, it’s okay, let it be that way.

If you care about doing your job well, that’s a good sign. Remember that you may still do good work even when your heart is aching (although it might feel much easier when you’re joyful).

Respect. By showing dignity and respect for yourself, you respect and credit other people within the same profession by association. I hope that whatever occupation you are in at this moment — be it a custodian, a student, a waiter, a farmer, a fisherman, a musician, a carpenter, a CEO, or whatever helps put food on your table — you cultivate respect for yourself.

If you are a teacher or an artist, it is especially important to respect yourself. Teachers and artists are not usually as highly paid as doctors and lawyers, but they perform two extremely important roles in our society: to train the next generation and to help us see the world in new ways.

(January 5, 2016 revision: Actually, it seems that I missed the point. No matter what you do, it seems that self-respect is what enables and allows full respect for others — their time, their right to happiness, their full development as a human being. So, no matter what you do, self-respect is especially important. You are a person, too. How would you have others treat themselves? And be sure to see Maria Popova’s article on love.)

Sometimes, your self-esteem takes a blow. It can happen unexpectedly. A breakup, a social humiliation, an unfair comparison, an insult, a misunderstanding. What can you do? Take a walk or do something with or for a friend. Throw your shoulders back, stand up tall, take responsibility for your actions and decisions. By having dignity and self-respect, we engage with and lift up those around us in mutual respect. Also, you may not realize how many people you are linked to and who look up to you.

Take care of yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your heart is important. Talking face to face with a friend is important. As you grow in habits of respect for yourself, your own needs for leisure time and connection, you naturally grow in respect and care for others. Also, never forget to dance, and realize what a speck you are in the grand scheme of things, and that it’s okay to shake your body and be absurd and laugh about it, too. Remember we are human beings, not human doings (Claros).

Thanks Omid Safi for the inspiration with the wonderful article, “The Disease of Being Busy.”