Characteristics of Fruitful Conversation (#10 my favorite)


When I was young I would watch, okay scrutinize, how the adults in my life reacted to unexpected situations. I was searching for clues as to socially acceptable behaviors, attitudes, responses to events I didn’t know how to handle. For example how do you respond to anger, frustration, fear, or sadness in others. These were skills I’d yet to develop. 

What I learned from these close observations was empathy, compassion, and the permission to act. 

If I were being perfectly honest I’d admit to closely watching people today because I feel unprepared to manage the anger, frustration, fear, sadness surrounding our political landscape. It’s as if I’m tip-toeing around trying to avoid triggering all these landmines that have mysteriously riddled our lives.

“Let’s not look back in anger, or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” James Thurber

I used to trust myself. I knew what reasonable behavior looked liked, how to discuss politics, or at times debate issues without it sprawling into a heated argument. I am forever grateful my first teachers were fairly calm, kind, and responsive to the plight of others.

“Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do.” Maria Shriver

I have watched my Dad move someone from anger to calm with such grace and ease you would have thought the man was trained to do so. I couldn’t figure out how he did it but now I realize it was his presence. A phlegmatic person is like water to fire, anger needs fuel to combust, and a lot of hot air. My Dad was a fire extinguisher. Heaven really had no idea who they were letting through those pearly gates. #Hero

Courage has nothing to do with our determination to be great. It has to do with what we decide in that moment when we are called upon to be more. Rita Dove

My Dad was rather priestly, prone to the blessings of wine, and just when I need him most, he’s off traveling in new vineyards. Conspicuously unavailable, except in my dreams, which isn’t helpful because he just smiles, laughs and hugs me before disappearing as quickly as he materialized. 

I’m sort of back to square one wondering what do you do when confronted with the unexpected? Maria Shriver says, “Starting at the bottom is not about humiliation. It’s about humility—a realistic assessment of where you are in the learning curve.” I might be at the bottom but always in search of good tutors.

So I turned to my mentor Krista Tippett and scrutinized a recent talk she gave on Living the Questions. Of course it all started with a tweet!

Krista tweeted after her annual sabbatical from social media, “Heartsick at the “right” & the “left.” Politics has become the thinnest of veneers over human brokenness. The vast majority of us don’t want to live this way. It is left to each of us, where we live, to start having the conversations we want to be hearing & grow this culture up.” 

Let me just say there was some backlash.

So in courageous Tippett style she confronted the issue head-on in a podcast called Living the Questions: Can conversation make any difference at a moment like this? (Linked to full podcast)

As the podcast begins Krista admits she is nervous, anxious, apprehensive in her gut, “I think we’ve got this horrible, churned-up place in our middle as a nation right now.” She acknowledges there are huge conversations or reckonings with regard to gender relationships, sexual abuse, boundaries, but more importantly we need to create the right spaces for these exchanges. 

I thought some of her most important thoughts came near the beginning of the podcast. She talked about not only the intention behind conversations but how our discourses affect the children we are raising and the world they will inherit. Let me hear it. #Snap #Snap #Snap

She said, “there are a couple of things in what came back from the tweet that do feel really essential to define. One of them is this question about the nature of conversation. The point of speaking together differently is learning to live together differently, our compulsion as humans to share space with each other, to put words, which are very often inadequate — but to struggle to put words around our deepest thoughts and our deepest longings and our most difficult subjects — to do that with each other. That’s the root of what is happening in conversation that is at the core of what it means to be human.” She’s sort of dramatic but damn my girl makes a lot of sense. 

I looked up the word conversation and it is defined as the informal exchange of ideas by spoken words. Krista takes it to a whole new level, she says, “it’s about shared lives, listening is about bringing our lives into conversation, something much bigger than talk.” There was a lot of chit chat in the podcast so I cherry picked the ripe fruit, peeled, and sliced it for you. You’re welcome. 

Here are the highlights:
  1. There are so many layers to the truth. #Caketalk
  2. The most important conversations we’ve had in our lives, the hardest, the ones that were turning points, they have a lot of silence in them. #SilenceIsGolden
  3. We have to create safe places and trust (which has to be earned) before we can have any meaningful conversations. #SafetyFirst
  4. Conversation done well strengthens relationship. #LitmusTest
  5. A good conversations has good questions in it, genuine curiosity, as opposed to posturing. #PulpitNo
  6. If we let every important subject be framed by the loudest, most visible, or most extreme view then we lose the opportunity to explore these topics and find common ground. #DramaQueenOut
  7. It’s a place where we carry our questions alongside our answers, and we carry some curiosity alongside our convictions. #CuriositySavesTheCat
  8. I think if we could create some better spaces for conversation, just people starting where they are, and model [calmness], that is an interesting place, a robust place; that, in fact, is the heart of our life together. #PhlegmaticsWanted
  9. The vast middle is the heart of our life together. #Gospel
  10. There are some people who see it first (changes that needs to happen) and then there’s a long period of gestation. John Paul Lederach calls it “critical yeast,” where small groups of people in an unlikely quality of relationship start to create new possibilities, and then that becomes infectious. #CriticalYeast
I love the term “critical yeast,” it was the focus of the On Being Gathering Krista held earlier this year. Things were heating up politically at the time but I had no idea it would get to this level so quickly. Krista challenged us to nourish, embolden, and accompany each other, to become critical yeast, and expect a pushing back before we are able to rise.

I think we need more Phlegmatic types, those who naturally influence the way we interact with each other, the ones who exude a sort of divine calm. Someone who innately knows how to defuse fear, anxiety, and frustration before it has a chance to explode into anger and hostility. 

Krista believes if we can change the way we talk with each other we can change the way we live together. We have to do this for our children. They are scrutinizing our behavior as we speak, searching for examples of empathy, compassion, but more importantly how we accompany and nourish one another. I believe this is the true nature of our hidden unity but it’s currently under heavy fire.  

“Generous listening is powered by curiosity, a virtue we can invite and nurture in ourselves to render it instinctive. It involves a kind of vulnerability – a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. The listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons one’s own best self and one’s own best words and questions.” Krista Tippett

I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll make it so. 

Anecdotes: 
  • Thank you Claudia P. for not only a good walk today, but civil conversation, and much needed encouragement to keep moving forward.
  • You realized you were surrounded by love, that you were held by love, and that you’d had too small an imagination about that word, that thing. Eve Ensler
  • A mystic is anyone who has a gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradiction, and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity. Krista Tippett
  • In anything funny you write that isn’t close to serious you’ve missed something along the line. James Thurber

8 Comments

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  1. HI Cheryl, Really courageous, pertinent post. I applaud your appeal to calm and reason. I fear your words will fall on deaf ears. The world we live in now has a sharp chasm. Gone are the days of my high school years, when two of my teachers where political opposites, yet best friends. Want to discuss the pro’s and con’s of minimum wage hike? Forget it. Want to improve health care? Forget it. All objectivity is gone. The times they are a changing. Want a forest management plan that decreases forest fires? You are either a radical logger trying to ruin the earth, or a radical environmentalist, refusing a little bit of management to reduce the danger. Want to go on a date? Get a consent form and a waiver, but it may not hold up.I am proud that you have the courage of your convictions. I think you are inspired by Krista Tippets’ willingness to take the heat. I hope that your yeast is a starter yeast, and it becomes critical yeast, yet I am fearful that you would venture too far out from the shelter of anonymity, and become yet another casualty in the war of 2018.In any event, you and your family (Larry, Nancy, Dave etc.) are always welcome at our house, and we can indulge in some introspective, thought provoking conversation, laced with quiet periods and abounding in friendship. Wine helps.A post or two back, I linked a Rush song with the lyrics: And the men who hold high placesMust be the ones who startTo mold a new realityCloser to the heart ….Philosophers and plowmenEach must know his partTo sow a new mentalityCloser to the heart Yes closer to the heart, yeah, ohIt still applies.My song for this post would be:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LI8X-GhFA8I love it when he sings:Call your mom, buy a boatDrink a beer, sing a songMake a friend, can't we all get along.Of course Gail’s choice is betterhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4fWN6VvgKQAn awesome song who’s meaning is more critical than ever.Thanks again for posting.

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  2. I remember wondering before your visit Mike if we would mesh politically, it's something I don't usually consider when meeting new people, but today it's seems to be the elephant in the room. Some people call it out before the \”how do you do\” gets spoken, positioning themselves so to speak without actually taking a seat, scanning the room for soft ground to stake their flag. I was charmed when the elephant never materialized during our time together or maybe I'm just grossly unaware? I remember laughter, reminiscing, sharing, listening, curiosity, common interests, camaraderie, kindness, music, and wine. I was more alarmed by Gail's bee hives, the names of your homemade beer, and surviving a Missouri winter! Even so we plan on visiting someday soon.Thanks for your support of this post Mike. It means a lot to me. I'm more concerned about the widening chasm I see forming between the left and right when I truly believe most of us reside silently in the middle, worrying more about relationship than political affiliation. I agree times will change, the pendulum will swing back to center, and I don't want to lose people I love over ideologies that might be more simular than we think. Love your music choices as usual but I agree Gail's hit the spot! Come on people now, smile on each other, everybody get together, try to love one another right now…perfect.

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  3. I like this blog and admire your ability to dip a toe into a dangerous topic. I too look forward to the day when we can have civil discussions with family and friends on all sides the the political spectrum. Until then, I’ll practice keeping quiet in mixed company and unfollowing radical FaceBook friends. I follow your advice to “Choose Happy” by focusing my Facebook feed on bees, vacations, nature, pets, children and grandchildren!! Dr. Gail believes this lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and makes a person healthier (my excuse not to go to the gym!)Our country is stronger and better than all this, hopefully we will realize it soon.

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  4. Dr. Gail I love your advice on healthy living – I totally concur. Staying focused on life’s greatest gifts is my current spiritual practice. I do believe all of our voices matter and someday those who have chosen silence as a way of avoiding intense retribution will rejoin the conversation when it is safe to do so. I remain hopeful.

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  5. \”…It is not how much we do, but how much love we put into the action of what we do\”- Couldn't agree less. Lip service only will not take us far in healthy living. I like the lessons presented here.

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  6. Thanks for stopping by Living in the Gap Omede and taking the time to comment. There is much we can learn from each other, respecting each other’s voice is how we start, only then can we move towards meaningful exchanges!

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  7. I believe social media can be a safe place, a happy place, the key is to not get involved in others opinions, know your beliefs are yours and that your ability to change others beliefs and opinions on social media is not an option. Stay positive😁

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  8. Hi Linda, Changing someone’s opinion is not the goal, the goal is to learn from others. To hold onto a healthy curiosity about the views, experiences, beliefs that others carry and can assist me into a deeper understanding of views that are not necesssarily my own. It’s a call for civility in our communication, respecting the rights of others to hold and share views different from our own. We can change that way we live together if we engage each other with curiosity and respect.

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