I was at Starbucks the other day to settle into a vanilla latte and do a little catching up on my reading. I’m trying to finish Tana French’s “The Likeness.” Which by the way is a fantastic novel.
I was struck by how nearly everyone in the room was on their phone. Even couples or groups of people sitting together; they were all texting, or doing some kind of data or app stuff. No one was talking. Except one lone woman who was on her phone going on and on to an invisible person on the other end having some insipid discussion about flooring. Apparently she was remodeling her extravagant kitchen and couldn’t decide on a pattern or color or whatever.
I’m not judging. I do it too. Check my email. Send texts. Search websites. Download tunes. We are all constantly on our phones. No one though really talks to anyone anymore. Our society is sick with inattention, blather, bullshit, indifference, blocked emotions, blank stares, or being lost in some smart phone fog.
We really don’t need to learn how to talk anymore. What we need is to learn how to have a conversation. Talking wastes time; conversation fills it. Talking rarely leads anywhere; conversation has a destination. Talking can go over your head; conversation goes deep and touches important inner spaces. Talking is rational; conversation is spiritual, emotional. Talking is often boring; conversation never is.
What is required for good conversation? Openness. Vulnerability. The willingness and skill to listen. Awareness. Concentration. Empathy.
We are all so closed today. And our phones keep us closed. We think we are communicating. But we’re just playing most of the time. Pretending at some form of connection. But it never reaches to anywhere that means anything.
There is nothing like sitting across from another person, looking into their eyes, watching their body language, hearing their words, and feeling what they are saying. That is connection. That is what a conversation consists of.
I am often alone in restaurants or fast food places and I look at couples eating together. It always stuns me how so few really speak with each other. They look at their food the whole time and maybe mumble a few words. Or one is talking while the other is staring into some kind of dark hole of longing to be somewhere else. I often see a man looking around the room not necessarily at other women but just absent mindedly surveying space while his wife or partner is looking right at him talking and talking and talking.
I don’t know what that is but it’s not conversation.
Just talking to someone gets tiresome. Talking with someone creates respect, opens up opportunities for laughter and learning, and builds intimacy. We get to know one another by talking with one another; because in that context comes listening, sharing, and having a conversation.
When we are open with one another in real conversation we can offer our truth without holding back and we can receive truth without pushing away. Being closed on the other hand kills conversation. It’s the death of relationships.
New Age mystic, physician, and bestselling author Deepak Chopra has said, “Whatever you pay attention to will grow more important in your life.”
That is certainly true of our relationships and the people in our lives. Whether it’s your spouse, your lover, your children, your aging parents, your disabled neighbor, your classroom students, your client or patient, your employee or employer—real trust, respect, caring, and connection comes through attention, intention, and conversation.
When we pay attention to one another all kinds of good stuff bubbles to the surface to share. And what great conversations we can have as a result. You can't do that with a cell phone.
© 2012 Timothy Moody