How Can We Encourage Meaningful Conversation?

Sometimes it seems like conversation is a dying art.

We don’t talk much anymore. In-depth discussions have been replaced with small talk. Long, rambling phone calls are now five second Vine videos. A ten page, hand-written letter is now a text message.

Why is this?

Generally, there are many reasons for this change. Technology, in the form of smart phones and social media, encourages brevity. We are warned to avoid controversial topics as a way of keeping the peace. In addition, an entire generation of young adults have grown up online, where tone of voice and body language are non-existent.

As a result, we grow ever more isolated from those around us. People are not confronted with differing opinions. We don’t often talk to people with opposing views, and when we do it devolves to a shouting match. Violence is increasingly more common. Consequently, entire communities are dismissed and ignored.

Is it all bad?

And yet, we still crave conversation. We want to be intellectually stimulated. Ted Talks, for example, are wildly popular, and can be thought of as the first half of a conversation. The vlogbrothers, Hank and John Green, are YouTube celebrities based on their ongoing weekly video chats. So the desire exists in each of us for communication of ideas, and the act of sharing them with our friends and acquaintances.

So how can we revive the art of conversation? How do we overcome our dependency on the endless Facebook newsfeed scroll, and engage each other in an actual dialogue? Can we recapture the give and take, the challenge of ideas, the talk for sake of the talk? In short, to be exposed to new ideas and new points of view?

How can we encourage meaningful conversation?

Related questions: What do we have in common? How can we encourage debate? Are we too busy? How can we become better listeners? What do you get out of social media?

How Are Humans Like Other Animals? How Are They Different?

Humans are among the most successful animals on Earth. We have transitioned from a few hundred thousand hunter-gatherers to billions of people spread across the planet.

However, we recognize in other animals that share our planet many of the same traits that we ourselves have. We see the loyalty of the dog. The tool-using cleverness of the crow. The playfulness of the dolphin. We see so much of ourselves in gorillas and chimpanzees that it suggested we have a common ancestor.

And yet, we seem quite different from any other animal. We have a manual dexterity that is uncommon. Our language is more highly developed than most. We learn about and manipulate our environment in ways that have transformed our lives completely.

There are many ways we can look at the animal kingdom, and draw comparisons or contrasts. Which ones do you find most compelling? Are we more like our animal cousins than we want to believe? Or are we somehow unique, for better or worse?

How are humans like other animals? How are they different?

Related questions: What do we have in common? How have we changed? Is it a cruel world?

How Do You Think Others See You?

When I turned 30, I asked my friends to provide a one word description of my best feature or my most prominent characteristic. I was curious about what they appreciated about my personality and the way I acted. While I considered myself fairly self-aware, I wanted to know if my friends saw me the same way I saw myself.

Before I started to get responses, I expected that the answers would fall into two or three broad categories. In my own mind, I was smart, I was funny, and I was friendly.

Once the answers started to roll in, however, I was surprised. In all, I asked maybe 30 people, and I got 30 different answers. While I didn’t expect that every response would be different, the thing that really astonished me was the wide variety of answers. Loyalty, eyes, conversation, creativity, honesty, goofiness. They did not easily fit into the categories I envisioned.

Different people value different things. It took me 30 years to learn this lesson, but it was a major step in expanding my empathy skills. Now I regularly try to view how other people might see the world, including how I fit into it.

I also learned something else from this exercise: every relationship I have is unique. While I might be a constant to my relationships, each person I interact with brings their own personality, their own experiences, their own vantage point to our mutual association.

Which brings me to this week’s question: How do you think others see you? How would you like them to see you? What can you do to change how others see you? Are you externally self-aware?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? What do we have in common? What makes you you? How do you judge yourself?