Watching the family across the room at the Mexican restaurant, I marveled at how much we Americans have devolved in my lifetime.
Two grade school children staring at iPads reached for chips, blindly dipping them in bowls of salsa. A teen shielded by oversized headphones scrolled through an iPod playlist. Mom read status updates or pinned or tweeted from her phone. Dad’s chair, pivoted away from the table, gave him a better view of sports highlights playing on a screen above the bar.
“It is no mere nostalgia to recognize that our capacity to sustain and enjoy good conversation has been seriously diminished by the proliferation of other forms of entertainment, and by work lives that leave us enervated by long commutes and rapid-fire electronic communication, that often forestalls face-to-face conversation in real time and real presence.”
-Marilyn Chandler McEntyre from Caring For Words In A Culture Of Lies
Sometimes it’s only when I take a plane over an ocean that I truly sit still and listen and connect with another human being. How sad. In some straw hut or rusting slum home, my cellphone unable to get signal, I suddenly realize how much I’ve missed real conversation.
I sat with a coconut in one hand and learned from Uncle John in India. I took an illuminating walk with Eliud through the sloshy streets of his neighborhood in Kenya. Pastor Manuel preached over lunch in Guatemala. I heard a little girl’s need to feel beautiful.
And I’m better for it. We all are.
Conversation is a game. But like all games it takes effort.
Sometimes we don’t play the game at all because we lack time or interest, or something shiny and handheld and easier has lured us away. But sometimes we play the game…badly.
- We speak too much and listen too little.
- We ask the “what” questions but don’t follow up with “how” and “why.”
- We end the conversation prematurely.
- We treat a conversation like a competition, one-up with a rival story of our own.
- We talk about ourselves too much.
- We don’t notice and interpret body language…or make eye contact.
- We talk facts and not feelings.
- We take but don’t share.
- We drive toward a specific outcome or answer.
Marilyn Chandler McEntyre writes that it is our job in a conversation to “keep the ball in play.” The hard work of conversation is “listening intently for what the others are doing and moving with them.” And when we do? When we make time for conversation? When we work at participating in the back and forth with consideration and skill? We’re better for it in innumerable ways.
Disconnected from the internet most of each day, we’ll walk dirt roads and sit under thatched roofs becoming better. We’ll try to do the hard work of connecting across walls of culture and language, reaching with “how” and “why”, listening, studying hands and faces.
May we all be better for it.
Pray us there and back? Thank you.