Important conversations are those that lead to: destruction or healing; death or new life. Margaret J. Wheatley, in her book, Turning to One Another, promotes personal and community healing through our relationships with one another. On page 24, in a section on the courage of conversation, she names some reasons it has become difficult to talk to one another.
“It’s not easy to begin talking to one another again…. Some … have never been invited to share our ideas and opinions. … instructed to be quiet so others can tell us how to think…. meetings to discuss ideas, but then these sessions degenerate into people shouting, or stomping out….These experiences have left us feeling hesitant to speak, and frightened of each other.”
Later, on page 25, she offers, “We only need enough courage to invite friends into a conversation. Large and successful change efforts begin with conversations among friends, not with those in power.” At the end of that paragraph, she wrote, “We don’t have to start with power, only with passion.”
Conversation implies a mutual process with each person sharing thoughts and each person listening, sort of like synchronization between your computer and your devices such as a cell phone or tablet. There are many potential barriers to conversation, beginning with needing a shared language. Others include mistrust, deceit, fear, and self-centered agendas. Real conversation cannot happen unless each participant is genuinely interested in the others in the conversation.
The lack of genuine interest in the thoughts, experiences, ideas, and feelings of the other affects us in many ways. It is a key part of the failure of many church people to connect with non-church people, and failure in conversations between churches. I have seen it as part of the failures to communicate in several work situations.
A challenge for some people like me is that we are partly like aliens in our own cultures/societies, and are a bit short of the social skills that are needed for effective personal communication as we miss important social cues or fail to think through some of our thoughts or intended actions. It is one of those areas where practice can help, but practice can be quite painful at the same time. This is one area where churches can help by providing spaces that are safe, patient, and accepting, but it takes time, commitment, and clarity of purpose for churches to create these spaces.
Online communities can help, but, when people choose to live in internet bubbles where they only see views that fit their own, they can further alienate people from the wider society and make it more difficult to have conversations with people with different points of view. We saw this last week in the case of the young man who lived in an incel bubble, and the frustration and resentment in that bubble provided him with enough anger to choose to murder as many people as he could with a van, especially women.
I believe most us, those that are not nihilists, want to live in caring, supportive community with cause for hope and joy. I believe it is important for us to use, and to learn to use, conversations as part our contributions to building that kind of society. Unfortunately, I am not sure how we can in general, and myself in particular, help that to happen. But, with God, anything is possible. Thanks be to God!