I read an article today that touched on, among other things, the art of conversation.
Yes, it is an art and it is not a skill we are born with.
In fact we are born with the opposite predisposition - selfishness. It is an important one though because a baby that doesn't let people know about its needs will die. So that's the way God built us.
However, God also built us to learn and in several of his best selling books (maybe you've heard of them? The Torah or Tanakh, The Bible and the Koran - He may have written a couple others but they haven't really topped the best seller list), He passed along His thoughts on the need to care for the people around us.
You might remember these catchy phrases:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you - if you want the world to pick on you, call you names and make you feel like an outcast, then be sure to pick on people, call them names and so on.
Love one another as you love your self - clearly this indicates that we are not to simply put ourselves first as a baby would.
Just to help us get into good habits as children and to make our adult lives easier He (God) directed us to:
Honor thy Father and Mother - I'm pretty sure He meant all the time, not just when you want them to spend money on you.
Do not steal - this doesn't just mean don't steal money or stuff. How about don't steal another person's self esteem by teasing or ridiculing them. Can you think of other ways this can apply?
Do not lie - it is often not the easiest way and is sometimes quite costly, due to our human nature to try to stay out of trouble no matter what mistakes we make. Don't say something that isn't true or fail to say something that is true just because it keeps you out of trouble. Don't say something that isn't true to hurt someone. Here's the tricky part... don't say something that is true if the only reason for saying it is to be hurtful or mean. Don't point out how beat up someone's car is - it isn't necessary. Don't point out how different someone looks - it isn't helpful.
Do not covet - that means to envy and to want to have or to be upset that you don't have a thing. For example, a nice car, a house, a pen, a girlfriend, a group of friends, a bigger nose, a smaller nose, bigger muscles, smaller head, bank account, grade, etc
At some point however, we grow up and have to learn about how to have a conversation and how to make other people feel important. There have been many studies on conversations and listening and here's an interesting finding.
People overwhelmingly report that a person is a great conversationalist and very enjoyable to talk to when they are more interested in what other people have to say rather than constantly feeling the need to say what they think are interesting things.
This also differs from quizzing people up, playing 20 questions or trying to disguise showing off how smart you think you are by asking questions like "Did you know...?" which is really a not so clever way to put people down so you can feel superior to them. Always a bad idea.
Even though it may come naturally, which makes it seem easy, it is actually far more difficult to constantly challenge other people or constantly explain why their ideas are not really the whole or best answer.
You will be more tolerable, well liked and perhaps even popular when you can que in on a key concept or feeling that someone has shared with you in a story and say something like: Oh, that's interesting, tell me more about... or confirming someone's feelings: Wow, that must have been scary, upsetting... fun.
Be careful to avoid sharing your own similar stories too often. Occasionally it's OK but too often and people will think you are "topping" or trying to show that your story is better then theirs. Your feelings were hurt more. You climbed the higher mountain. You fell further, ran faster, swung higher, saw farther.
You never need to "one up" other people - although when someone is doing it to us we may feel we want to show them up. But then, that usually backfires and just makes you look bad and weak instead of the other guy (girl).
You are great guys in so many ways. Just don't ever think that's good enough or that you are done getting better.
Love, Your friend (and occasional frustrating authority figure),