Art of Conversation Threatened

Fine does not always mean fine, so says my friend.

Sitting in her office earlier this week we were talking about how our kids equate texting each other the same as speaking verbally. Today, many people use the two terms interchangeably without a thought.

“There is a difference,” she said. “Fine is not always fine. I want to hear if your fine means fine or maybe something a bit less. All that important nuance gets lost in the translation of texting.”

Her words reminded me of a conversation that same day where my daughter was using the term, texting, interchangeably with verbally communicating. She’d said she’d been speaking with a friend – someone currently halfway around the globe.

“You guys actually spoke?” I asked.

She acted as if I missed a critical class in basic communications along the way.

“No, no one talks on the phone anymore. We text each other.”

Fine, I thought to myself.

The art of conversation is simply that, an art form. Like learning to dance, carrying on a good conversation is an acquired experience. Without repeated practice, we are never sufficiently challenged to improve and sharpen our skills. And without putting in the time and effort, we tend to speak with two left feet.

Quality conversation is all about the other person, listening, responding, moving the conversation forward in sync with the other person leading whenever possible. And, like dancing, being nimble on your figurative feet, is key to being able to both see and feel the emotional tells from the other person. You are always scrutinizing the words selected (why that particular word?), reading for emotional body language (eyes darting or looking away?), and being aware of the unspoken emotions (sense any changes in the speakers cadence?).

Texting, however, is a cold and lifeless form of communication absent of genuine emotion. Emoticons are not a substitute for reading the small pause in someone’s reply to an innocent question of how they are. Empathy simply does not translate through a keyboard. And many times, this lack of multi-dimensional communication leaves a receiver misinterpreting the sender’s message.

Spoken communication is a critical component of society. Without developing the important skills to accurately read and correctly react to a live conversation, one leaves room for misinterpretation. And misinterpretation leads to hurt feelings or inappropriate replies. Verbal stepping on toes, so to say.

So where do we go from here? What does this new social acceptability of non-verbal communication mean for society? Does the loss of the art form of highly developed conversational skills potentially point to a future of more confusion and more miscommunication?

The old phrase ‘lost in translation’ is appropriate here. Translating from one language to another requires a measure of understanding the receiver may not fully understand the message as intended.

Which brings me back to my friend’s point about the important difference between texting and verbally communicating. She told me she is fine – and I believer her. All the other signs told me so.

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Living with a half-full glass in a half-empty world

Cabin Slows Down Time

 “One day the dogs came back to our house wet. We didn’t even know the river was across the road.”

I’m standing on a raw roadbed speaking with a woman who owns a small cabin where my wife and I are spending a few days. She and her husband lived seven years in the small wooden space not much larger than a two-car garage in the big city they left behind.

“Our kids graduated high school and we moved out here. They thought we were crazy.”

The truth is, the owner and her husband might be the sanest people I’ve ever met.

After a lifetime of raising their family on the outskirts of one of the largest cities in America, the two decided to invest in themselves and head for the hills – the Texas Hill Country.

They followed the dogs back through the brush, down nature-cut rock pathways, to discover the Blanco River gently sweeping past. Also, as if forgotten by time and pushed aside, rest a small wooden cabin near the water’s edge.

“There were holes straight through the roof and the floor,” she says.

Then the next chapter began – they saved the cabin.

“We bought the property and my dad and I took the cabin apart, piece by piece, and dragged it up the hill,” she says.

“My husband and I planned to live a year in the cabin, but it turned into to seven years.” She pauses. “But you know how things can go,” she says with a warm smile.

Today they share their cabin with a few people looking for a quiet, simple place to reset or reconnect.

“We saved the cabin and the cabin saved us,” she says, her words hinting at another story reserved for yet another time.

The cabin demands you slow down. From the moment the screen door welcomes you with a universal rasp, the pace of the one-bedroom cabin permeates your being, as if insisting you turn yourself over to a time slightly beyond your memory.

Morning coffee? First grind your beans and wait for to coffee to be ready. Biscuits? Lift up the metal grate inside the small white appliance and light the pilot light. Cold? Grab a blanket while the cabin takes a more natural timeline to warming up.

There is something beautiful about living in a world where your coffee is not prepackaged in a small pod and ready at a moment’s notice. And to have to figure out how to light an oven without calling a repairman is rewarding. And as for a blanket, we could all learn this lesson.

The cabin offers a world where streaming television and movies are replaced by board games and compel deep and meaningful conversations between two people.

One evening sitting on the front porch, my feet up on the wooden railing, I again lose the sun behind the hills overlooking the gentle turquoise river. But if the cabin taught me anything it is that there will always be another day.

 

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