Friday, February 21, 2020

Small Talk, Big Connections

Life and living are complex, to be sure. Still when connecting with others it helps to have conversational principles in place that produce good things for the relationship, not only for the good of each individual, but also for the greater community and the world as a whole.  Honest, positive exchanges of information benefit all.

Three principles I think work together to create positive conversation are compassion, reason and self-reflection. (and a fourth, sense of humor, may be very well be the mortar between those bricks)

Compassion cherishes the other person, their participation and their point of view as equal or even slightly more important than your own.

Reason brings to bear in a thoughtful manner the best data, logic and established science pertinent to the conversation.

Self-reflection engages humility, integrity, and an open mind during and after the conversation to consider and reconsider ones convictions.

And a sense of humor recognizes that no peaceful battle is ever settled in one day, let alone a single conversation. But laughter can remind us of the goodness of our connection even when other emotions and disagreement are in play.

As a real world example of how one might implement these conversational principles, let's consider the very real scenario when I interact with someone I know and care for who has a belief in a magical position, specifically, let's say, belief in an afterlife. I choose this topic because of the wide range of seriousness and silliness with which an afterlife is considered to this day.

Entering the conversation, compassion leads the way. By considering the person you'll be talking not only can you adjust your presentation to be most interesting to the other person, you also set yourself up to have your information received in a friendly fashion. I think one of the best ways to open a conversation is with a question, so that you demonstrate your interest in the other's thoughts.

What do you think of the idea of heaven?

Even if your friend is a believer you may very well be surprised at how skeptical their position is. As a person who wants to implement reason, this can be a great way to learn some fact or at least understand the exact position your conversational partner holds.

Okay so you believe there is paradise where everyone is happy and you are reunited with everyone in your life who has died, except for those who didn't believe in the Christian god?

By reflecting honestly what your friend has shared seeks confirmation that you understand their conviction. You might very well go through several iterations of fully understanding the basics of their stance. You may find opportunities to gently challenge their premises along the way.

Okay, so Christians judged by Jesus as worthy rise to heaven, but even if you're a non-christian or an atheist who lived your life with love and kindness you wouldn't get there?

Yes it can be trying at times to listen to a story that has little evidence behind it, but a good conversation takes the other's position seriously.  If you can't then you probably shouldn't have started the conversation. Real world persuasion involves patience and calm, honest sharing. Otherwise, the conversation can enter an adversarial dead end to no ones benefit. To this end, reflect on whether your statements might insult the other, instead of a acerbic comment consider sharing a friendly comment that underscores wanting to know the truth better.

I used to believe in an afterlife myself. The hope that we will be reunited with our dead loved ones is powerful, which makes heaven an interesting idea to contemplate.

At a certain point you may sense the discussion is only causing stress, and you'd rather not have it become an all or nothing debate. "Winning the argument" with a friend rarely happens, especially over the course of a single conversation. A better way to end a serious minded discussion is with a bit of humor to fertilize any seeds of compassion and reason that were planted.

Well, if there is a heaven, I hope they have Netflix!

To be sure, being human means we may never perfectly implement the principles of compassion, reason and self-reflection. Still if we make the attempt to ratchet up these principles in conversations with those we care about, we just may find ourselves one step closer to creating heaven on Earth.

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