“A Conversation that Matters”

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Source: Verilymag.com

For years now, I have noticed that one of my greatest pet peeves, one of the things that ALWAYS makes me frustrated, are “the conversation police.”

I think you might know them.

Whenever a conversation (usually among at least 3 people) starts to become serious — or someone mentions something sad on the news, or someone else mentions politics or (worse) religion, or the general tenor of the talk shifts from superficial to profound — the conversation police intervene. And they say something like,

“Wow, Anne, way to be a downer.”

Or

“Well… this is awkward. ANYWAY – I was shopping the other day and…”

Or

“Man, this conversation got really SERIOUS all of a sudden!”

Or

“Okay… MOVING ON!”

Or, sometimes, they even police themselves, and say,

“Ah, sorry to ruin the conversation guys. We can talk about something else.”

“Ruin” the conversation?? When you actually said something significant, and everyone was listening to you??

That’s when the frustration starts to boil up inside of me and I encounter (the increasingly frequent) temptation to despair of humanity’s ability to communicate at all.

Have you experienced this phenomena too?

Why is it that when people start talking about something that really MATTERS, a lot of people feel awkward enough to change the topic to something that DOESN’T matter? Why are we so afraid to really speak to one another? Why do our conversation topics always have to be “happy” (but not truly happy)? Why do we shy away from what is serious… from what is true?

Okay – a caveat is in order:

I do understand that there are times when certain types of conversations are appropriate, and there are other times when they just aren’t. Setting matters, context matters, timing matters – the people involved also matter. You can’t talk about gay marriage or abortion or God or death or the poor just any time you want, without considering the situation you are in. Yes, I get that.

Another caveat:

I also understand that some people don’t like talking about controversial issues in public–although I vehemently wish they would try to get over this, because I think the public square (whether that’s in a high school hallway, on the street, or in the news)  NEEDS people who have the courage to talk about what matters. I am (according to Myers-Briggs) an INFJ, and therefore a very private person. But as an INFJ I also get really sick of superficial conversation that starts nowhere and ends nowhere, just because it is “safe” and “easy.”

As a high school English teacher, I am surrounded by young people who are either 1) scared to talk about stuff that matters or 2) ignorant of how to do this charitably and reasonably. I think they see older people who are unwilling to talk about what matters, or who talk about it in a very unkind way, and so they are turned off and never really learn how.

In my honors class the other day (we’re still studying mythology), I was so proud of my kids because we actually DID have a good conversation. They handled it really well. Having read Dr. Mark Lowery’s article on C. S. Lewis’ idea “Myth Become Fact,” one of my students asked a really good question about whether or not we were dishonoring other religions by claiming that Christianity fulfills all of them and is the ONE “myth” that actually became a historical fact.

A plethora of hands shot up in the air (I could see the “oh no! moral relativism!” gleam in their eyes) as they tried (rather unsuccessfully) to communicate to this student their versions of an answer.

So I had them write down their answers for homework and we talked about it again the next day, with more success I think.

I tried to bring in Pope Benedict’s Caritatis in Veritate a little bit: people tend often to either value truth without love (the uberconservatives, for lack of a better term), or love without truth (the uberliberals, for lack of a better term). When really, truth without love isn’t truth at all – it’s a lie. And love without truth isn’t love at all – it’s a well-disguised cruelty.

Benedict says, “To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity” (CIV 1).

And I think herein lies the real point:

If you want to have a real conversation, you have to strive for the marriage of truth and love in whatever you say. And that takes courage.

So, as the wonderful Daily Dose from Verily Magazine suggests:

“Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.”

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8 Comments

Filed under Catholicism, Christ, Education, Religion

8 responses to ““A Conversation that Matters”

  1. Tricia Klug

    Good job, Maura, although I must say that “uberconservatives” are misunderstood much of the time. I consider myself one and have many
    friends who are as well. I guess this begs the point you are making,which
    is that people need to have more conversation about things that matter. We are a society that only has time for headlines of stories instead actually
    reading them.

    • I added the prefix “uber” to “conservative” to indicate those who maintain a sort of Pharisaical attitude toward others – who prioritize “truth” to the utter exclusion of love. So definitely not you!

      Thank you for reading!

  2. I think a large part of it is fear. When you talk about something serious, or controversial, you make yourself, and your perspective on those things, vulnerable to the scrutiny and potential criticisms and rebukes of others (which, quite often, can be rather mean-spirited). That, and there seems to be a common fear of offending. I think more than not learning how to have real communication going on in conversations, people rarely learn how to deal with that kind of vulnerability. The avoidance of meaningful communication might be more a symptom than a cause. And I believe it has a wider scope of implications than communication. The life choices a person makes, the interests they pursue, the things about themselves they feel ashamed of, and so on… all of that, and more can be de-railed, a persons growth stunted in so many ways, if they don’t learnt o deal with simple fear.

    My thoughts anyhow. I don’t think any of that really runs counter to what you’re saying, but your posts usually incite a stream of thoughts and I figured I’d go ahead and share them for once 🙂 .

    • Thank you Darth (may I call you Darth for short?) for your comment! I think you really summed it up well there – fear is so often the reason why we do not venture to speak about what matters.

      Although, as you indicate, sometimes this fear is well-founded — or, a least, more understandable than we may at first believe.

      Yet I confess even this fear frustrates me at times. Where is our courage? Where is our love for trying to find out what is true?

      For fear is one thing – giving into it is another. I am very guilty of that vice myself, and it’s called cowardice.

  3. Another INFJ here –
    There are so few of us I thought I’d introduce myself. 🙂
    Nice post and I too like to talk about things that matter!
    Not a fan of small talk, although over the years you learn to do what you have to do in certain circumstances.
    Lovely blog- God bless- Theresa

    • Hi Theresa!

      I confess – I am always so excited when I meet another INFJ. I know very few of them – and as far as I know even my closest circle of friends does not include any.

      Thanks for commenting and reading. Please always feel free to share your thoughts!

      God bless,

      Maura

  4. An INFJ here! Just passing by 😛

    I can completely relate to feeling frustrated during small talk. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because of our natural curiosity isn’t geared to other people, but rather to ideas/our inner life.

    Or the lack of meaningful communication might mean that our relationship with that person isn’t as important as we perceive it to be. For example, when I’m talking with friends out of my tight-knit circle of very close friends, I find that it’s very hard to talk about anything other than work/school/the horrible class or teacher. If I were a closer confidant, I suppose I might get a more meaningful conversation.

  5. Pingback: Random Thoughts on Conversations | Random Thoughts

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