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.”
“Well… this is awkward. ANYWAY – I was shopping the other day and…”
“Man, this conversation got really SERIOUS all of a sudden!”
“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.
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.”