The Art of Conversation

Ephesians 4:29 Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. ~ The Message

I am a people watcher. One particular day Doug and I had decided to get Indian Food at a line-out-the-door-hole-in-the-wall, that has some good grub. We had a good 20 minute or more wait, so I watched the couple in front of us. She kept trying to talk to him, he kept reading his phone and answering in one or two words. Technology etiquette blog on the way. There were two girls from work discussing work it seemed, there were people quietly walking through the line. As we moved closer to the front, I began to look for a table. There were three women and two men, laughing hysterically and enjoying their lunch. What fun to have lunch with friends, I thought! One woman was a loud-mouth and chewed with her mouth open. Another etiquette blog. I watched her in what seemed like slow motion poking her fork into her curry chicken and then chewing with her mouth open as she talked to everyone. I wondered how much food was being sprayed into the others plates. She chews like a cow, I thought to myself.

We ordered and found a table to sit down at. As we waited patiently for our food to arrive, I noticed that many of the couples there were reading their phones and not interacting. Ourselves included. Okay, I thought, we really have to get back to the basics. Where’s the conversation here? I mean this has the potential of being a really good date for the two of us.

Ohoh! Landmine at the table with the three women and two men. Loudmouth girl says loudly, “That stupid f*^@&*# b%#@%. I asked her if something was up between us and she said no.” So the women begin to dish on whoever they were talking about. I quit looking at them because they were quite engrossed in their conversation. One of the men sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. The other man put his hand to his mouth. They looked uncomfortable. They looked away. They looked down at their food. Then the one man, with his hand to his mouth, engaged the other man in a conversation of some sort, and they both even positioned themselves and moved their seats slightly apart from the women. Now instead of five people talking at a table, there were two sets of conversations going. Displeasing conversation had broken up the camaraderie.

I looked around the room and realized we were unaware of each other, even when we’d opted to dine together. People were busy on their cell phones, others were merely eating, still others were having separate conversations unaware that others were uncomfortable. I looked over at the couple who had been in front of us in the line. She was sitting quietly annoyed and he was still on his phone. We were still on our phones, as Doug began to tell me about what he’d learned about beer on the History Channel. I crinkled my nose and said, “Beer is gross.”

It begs the question are we engaging each other in real conversations? Conversations that matter? The gossip at table of five separated out lunch buddies, the cell phones separated out many. Wait! I look over in the corner of the room. There are three old guys with long hair. Hippee-types from another time. They were eating Tandoori salads, leaning back in their chairs, in friendly discussion. No phones, no women! I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Maybe their free love talks of days gone by, have given way to political discussions about Wall Street? I don’t know, but it made me wonder if we’ve lost the art of conversation?

Published in: on January 14, 2012 at 5:47 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. I don’t think so, it’s just we never had it in the first place. Susan, I believe sin is about self-absorption, the little god replacing the purpose and will of the true God. Haven’t you heard the phrase from both genders “I just gotta’ be me!” or the my other favorite “you just have to accept me as I am”. We are a world absorbed in our own bubbles hoping someone will come along to share our self-admiration—or if we have lower self-esteem, to help us get some.

    I do think that etiquette has gone out the window, but if you read the articles of yesteryear, you’ll see the same complaints about conversations in times past—and that without the phone issues. It’s just in the times past we were more socially tied to mores which dictated our behavior. Yet behavior that comes across as disinterested while appearing to be attentive is just as rude and hurtful as that which is obviously so.

    Your restaurant experience was a just a microcosm of the wider problem facing humanity. We want to be understood without really understanding; we want acceptance without accepting; we ache for value without having to put forth any effort to value others.

    You and Doug have meaningful and deep conversations, as well as those which are free and fun. If you are out to dinner and choose to be occupied by a book or phone, it is because you have a relationship that speaks to your love for one another’s company. That’s companionship. You didn’t go out to dinner without him or he without you. At that moment you didn’t need the conversation but the presence of one another. I think right there is the difference between the conversations you observed and what you experience with your husband.

  2. Pastor Susan, I love what you hinted at: “technology blog on the way. … Another etiquette blog…” as well as your closing queries about engaging each other in conversations…that really matter.” From beginning to end, this post (and so many others) speaks to the issue of respect for others and right attitudes and behaviors.

    Part of God’s instruction to the Israelites was telling them to speak of what He’d done when rising, eating, walking, working, and before going to bed. Why? So they would not forget, and so they could pass along the stories and experiences to those in future generations.

    No matter the culture, no matter the era, if right behavior isn’t modeled, it won’t be repeated. And as Jonny said, it requires effort. I’m so glad that the Lord has laid on your heart the very real need of training up your spiritual children so they know how to live: graciously, socially, and responsibly. Then, it can be spread through their spheres of influence as well.


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