Are You Listening?

Some would claim that we are losing the art of conversation in the way we communicate today. Through social media, tweets, blogs (heck, even this newsletter), we spend a lot of time talking at people, rather than with them. If we have a healthy relationship with technology and an awareness of the way it is influencing our behavior, we might take precautions not lose our ability to relate to other people. Unfortunately, it is too easy to just “like” what we agree with and block what we don’t.v

If we strongly disagree, we might respond with our own viewpoint. A sort of dialogue might commence, in which both parties are all too aware of the public platform on which the “conversation” is taking place. It is a forum that is impersonal, unforgiving, and often disrespectful. Each statement is unretractable, and subject to extreme scrutiny. Preoccupied with their own vulnerabilities and with their need to be perceived as right, both parties are inhibited in their ability to listen and truly relate to each other.

I had a friend in college who jokingly called herself a “verbal” learner. She tended to brashly put ideas or statements out there during conversations, then, actually considering those statements for the first time, either retract or amend them. We would laugh about it, but I admired her ability to freely and openly test out ideas in that way, as well as her willingness to admit mistake. I miss this kind of conversation. This was the same year that I was introduced to Facebook. Little did I know how conversations, especially on college campuses, would change from that point forward.

Social media, like many technologies, has an incredible potential to empower people all over the globe. However, we must use it in a way that expands, rather than inhibits, our humanity. Conversation, real conversation, has to be a part of that. And the most important part of conversing is a willingness to really listen and to try to relate. This requires openness, self-awareness, patience, vulnerability, and, maybe most of all, a little grace.

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