Jim Bishop | In the market for a good talk?
The older I get, the more I appreciate the gift of quality conversation.
It’s those memorable times of interacting one-on-one with my spouse or a friend or in a group when I go away thinking, wow, that was constructive, thoughtful and energizing. It doesn’t happen every time.
Contrast that to much of what takes place on talk radio or the “talking heads” shows that fill the 24-hour-a-day cable news networks. There, someone either calls to vent his frustrations or to malign some public figure as the show host pursues his goal of reinforcing prejudicial thinking while limiting possibilities for other viewpoints to be aired.
Open, honest dialog can result in a person changing his mind – even God did that when Jonah argued his case for sparing the city of Nineveh – but that requires more careful analysis and lowering strident voices that appear to be less an option amid non-stop 60-second sound bites.
I recall a recent gathering where the conversation flowed freely with two other couples, friendships formed in our college days of the mid-1960s that continue to the present. Everyone seemed at ease, expressed genuine interest in what the other had to say and laced their comments with humor and insight. It didn’t hurt that the symphony of sound took place around a table laden with tasty food, elegantly appointed, an ambient setting that fostered dialog.
“This is what I hope will happen in retirement – to have lots of opportunities to sit and to talk, unhurried, with people I know about thing that matter,” Betty Lou said on our drive back to Harrisonburg, and I concur.
On the heels of that camaraderie-filled event came the regular meeting of our church small group. Again, while we do much bantering and easily get sidetracked from our main agenda, these times of sharing are relaxed, not forced, encouraging a spirit of transparency.
What makes it so? We feel comfortable around each other and have a deep trust level, knowing that what is said stays in this setting. We’re of similar age range and life experiences and have many shared values. I feel blessed to have this channel to talk candidly about life’s deepest issues, personal struggles and joys.
It’s taken awhile, but I now feel more comfortable in settings and situations that include periods of silence. It may seem awkward, unproductive at first, when in fact at such times some new insight or revelation may surface.
Electronic mail is a technological marvel, but more and more I question to what extent it contributes to enhanced human relationships. (The same might be said for the ubiquitous cell phone).
Email is easy to use, moves messages from one point to another in a heartbeat, but if anything, the quality of “conversations” isn’t improving, from what I can tell. Slipshod sentence structure, misspellings and grammatical errors are the norm. I read certain messages on a listserve I belong to and am struck by the “personalities” certain persons take on, with a bolder, more confrontational style than how they would relate in face-to-face exchanges.
Chat rooms, blogs, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube – these social networks continue to expand and draw more participants. I’m not among them. I diplomatically decline invitations to become anyone’s “friend” on Facebook or MySpace, to respond to personal blogs or to join professional colleagues on LinkedIn. I know that I’d end up frequenting these sites too often while neglecting more important projects and tasks. I have enough difficulty just keeping up with current email, voicemail and other communications.
Beyond that, the Internet, for all its wonders and expediencies, had the potential to become addictive.
Meanwhile, authentic conversation, with opportunities to pause, consider new ideas, rethink positions and even change direction, happens too seldom these days, methinks.
We could do worse than seek to truly converse.
– Column by Jim Bishop