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A good conversation – Part four

By Fr. Jonathan Filkins

Brett and Kate McKay wrote an interesting analysis, after reviewing the interchange which took place between C.S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and their friends. It had little to do with the theological epiphany of Lewis, but centered upon the efficacy of the conversation and the resultant success; even if this success had not resulted in a change of views.

Their report, which followed, contained several key points which have a true relevance to our own relationships. It does not seem to matter if these relationships are with our families, peers, or even with our Creator. What the discourse contained was the assertion that a “good conversation” has the potential of a transformative power. Note here that the modifier here is “potential;” as it is not a prerequisite for a measure of success.

The McKay’s outlined several standards for what they considered necessary for this goal. First, they identified time. It is that time where we can invest ourselves, and others, in an open-ended conversation. It demands we do not answer with the requisite response of, “Fine!” when we are anything else but. It also means we invest the time in seeking more appropriate answers to our question, “How are you?”

The second point is rather obvious. We are to pay attention. If we don’t, then it will soon become obvious and the conversation, such as it was, will soon end. This calls for us to value the person, much as we value ourselves. Having an intrinsic interest in others is invaluable for effective communication. If it sounds a bit Biblical, then it is.

Thirdly, conversations are collaborative and kinetic. In other words, there is an active give and take to the dialog. People are not talking “at” others but, rather, with others. Much time, and money, has been spent on this point. Say we have only a fragment of an idea. It sounds absurd to us, but there is a slight scent of potential. We find, after reaching out to others, it has been refined by their words and stimulation. Our opus has become a masterpiece.

Frequently, no matter who we are, we have become reactionaries and speak and act “off the cuff.” Our behaviors are, seemingly, pre-programed. As an indicator, studies show that the average American regularly uses about 300 words in their day-to-day activities. This with a total of nearly 500,000 conversational words available and over 1,000,000 scientific and technical words looming in the background. Perhaps, this reveals how limited we have become and tells us we have some work to do.

It would be easy to overstate the necessity of these conversations, as they have the potential of insulating us from our own thoughts. For the next point, we are given what is, perhaps, our greatest challenge. It is the challenge of solitude; that time where we have to face our own thoughts.

Spending time alone is a necessary part of conversation. It is that time when we may collect our own thoughts and expand upon those already given and received. It is a time to listen to that “still small voice” within ourselves; expanding upon our own internal universe and developing our own epiphany into the wonderment of it all.

Next week: The Conclusion