This is a reprint of what I wrote for the OneCity blog on Beliefnet. It is reprinted for archive purposes. I am also including Jerry’s kind introduction.
Are You Ready for Real Conversation?
Wednesday February 24, 2010
Today’s guest post is from Marnie aka NellaLouise of the excellent blog Smiling Buddha Cabaret. I first became aware of Smiling Buddha Cabaret when a friend told me that NellaLouise had mentioned me in her blog, which led to a long and fruitful conversation between us on her blog and by email.
The whole discourse, coupled with an incendiary post I had written on this blog around the same time, completely changed my approach to blogging about Buddhism as well as causing some deeper changes in my life. In terms of the blogging, what I realized is that it is hard enough to understand another person’s experience when you “know” them well; but lobbing my opinion about spiritual matters into a large sea of strangers on the deeply depersonalizing internet simply could not be said to be an act of mindfulness when I looked at it with clarity, at least not in the way I was doing it at the time.
Here’s NellaLou’s far more eloquent post on the nature of conversation, and please read more of her writing at Smiling Buddha Cabaret.
Some time ago I got into a conversation with Jerry. It didn’t start out as a conversation. In fact it began as some rather snarky comments and smarty-pants blog posts. Then it turned into a tentative dialogue. And it finally resulted in a meaningful conversation. That’s an unusual accomplishment over the Internet.
There is a lot of talk in contemporary life.-talk radio, talk shows, talk therapy, talking points, talking heads, small talk, pillow talk, Google talk, double talk, girl talk, “talk to the hand”, “walk the talk”, “all talk and no action”, straight talk, talk dirty, sweet talk, money talks.
Talk is a rather one-sided affair. Someone says something and perhaps others give it some amount of attention. There may or may not be the opportunity to respond to the talker depending upon the format. Responses are usually limited to points made by the originator of the talk. And then it’s finished.
Talks are different than conversations. Talks are used for the imparting of information or points of view and audiences are expected to absorb the information in a somewhat passive manner. There is an unequal balance between the speaker and the hearer. Conversations involve two, or sometimes more people each contributing fully to the moment. They may not contribute an equal number of words but they do contribute full attention to other participants. There is much listening, considering and responding.
The talk mode dominates the Internet. Through blogs, comments, YouTube videos, podcasts, streaming media and informational websites there is an assumption of audience. The audience is also assumed to be minimally participant in the production of the talk based element. Sometimes the audience is even overlooked in favor of expression of personal viewpoints. Talk is sometimes reduced to an expulsion of thought and emotion without much regard to effects.
Conversation is about making connections. It goes beyond simply being heard and becomes about being understood and understanding. Conversations can be somewhat daunting experiences. They ask a lot more of the participants. I am reminded of a couple of lines from the Bruce Springsteen song Tunnel of Love:
“Then the lights go out and it’s just the three of us
You me and all that stuff we’re so scared of”
Whether we are conversing with someone close to us like a lover or family member or with someone at some emotional distance conversation requires a certain amount of risk. The risk is in allowing vulnerability to emerge and defenses to drop. This is where conversations can go awry and simply become talks.
When conversations get loud and talk-like it usually means one of the parties has stopped listening. Some reasons can include anger or hurt. Other reasons, especially in a group context can be a desire for attention, to be noticed in the crowd.
Once fear and ego are addressed a conversation is possible. Once we realize that vulnerability is not a weakness to be disguised by aggression, silence, nonchalance or all the other fronts we put up, then meaning can happen.
Real conversation brings resolution. It’s not always pleasant nor does it always end with smiles. Sometimes the conversation first needs to be about being heard. Sometimes the conversation has to be about endings as much as beginnings. Sometimes it has to be about pain rather than pleasure. But it always leads to clarification and furthers understanding.
Conversation is far more intimate than talk. It comes and goes from the heart.
When we notice the talk mode coming to dominate our speech there is a chance to temper that and broaden our inclusiveness. The audience can become a participant. We can then notice who is in need of some meaningful conversation. And maybe we can even accept that is it us.
For more of Marnie’s writing visit her blog at Smiling Buddha Cabaret.