Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Lost Art of Conversation

I am a person who truly enjoys conversation. I like it one on one and I also enjoy it in a group. When I was searching for a partner utilizing dating ads, I described myself as a "conversexual." Good ones open me up and turn me on in a sense much broader than sexuality alone. I cherish conversations that include exchange of ideas, playing with humor and language and building emotional intimacy. It makes me wonder if the passion and skills required for good conversation is, in fact.  disappearing.

Maybe it's because I'm getting old. Perhaps it's just due to rampant technology and the creation of "social media." It feels like actual conversation is being replaced by what I refer to as the "drunks at a bar" phenomenon. This involves two or more individuals doing run-on monologues about the issues in their lives without the slightest regard for what the other person is saying. The biggest missing piece here is listening. There is no back and forth, give and take, no, what they call in support groups, "cross-talk." To me, this feels like a hollow, empty exercise devoid of support or caring. It's an each person for themselves dog and pony show.

I have to assume that this level of self-obsession emanates from alienation, loneliness and despair so I don't blame the victims. When it happens in the peer support group co-facilitate, I try to ask more questions, to initiate and back and forth. When it happens, one on one with a new acquaintance, I don't know how to proceed. I would try to turn it around if only I could get a word in edgewise!

Listening is a large part of the battle. Therapists are paid to do it. My cat, Luna, is a great listener but I wouldn't say she is a conversationalist. She does speak a bit, but her subject choice seems to be limited to one dead, Chinese leader. But, therapists and pets aside, listening is a good starting point.

A conversation is a real-time, living, breathing entity. Having an idea of what you want to talk about and attempting to steer it on one course, destroys it. That's why some of the best conversations in college were had in groups of the substance impaired. Being just a tad high helps with spontaneity.

I'm sure some really great talkers are out there still hoping to build a bridge of words that will not only span the distance between our lives, but get us actively thinking about ways in which to improve them. I am already looking forward to our future conversations.