There's a good tool we can use when we want to connect—conversation. When we see it as dialogue, conversation is shared inquiry. But it's really hard to pull off this kind of back and forth dance between talking, suspending judgement, and listening online.
More often than not, what we see online is discussion, which reflects the tendency to think alone. In a discussion, people see themselves as separate from each other. Just like with email. We think it's a conversation as a phone call would be, but it's no such thing. Email is more like an informal letter we lop over the fence (sometimes uninvited).
Conversation is a process of mutual making sense, in real time.
In a recent interview about Captain Fantastic, which was out this past summer, Danish-American actor Viggo Mortesen talks about tapping into childhood memories and our inability to join conversations in real time.
Sometimes people bring up stuff and you go, [grimaces]. And it’s like, “Well, obviously, it’s about this, and you guys are saying this,” or, “Matt, obviously, you were thinking this.” And a lot of times, because he’s an honest guy, he goes, “No, it hadn’t occurred to me.” Anyway, so that’s great and it’s a good feeling.
But it doesn’t happen all the time that people come up and honestly say, “I want to talk about the movie, and I’m relating to it.” It just doesn’t happen that often. And also, that’s the way the country is anymore. I mean, it’s very polarized. It’s not just the politicians: It’s they’re tapping into something, a disquiet, a polarization.
People aren’t communicating well. You know, they’re getting lots of information with other devices to reinforce their existing position and prejudices, but they’re not reaching out to really interact with other people. It’s been a couple of decades since I’ve seen it this bad in this country and I think this movie, without dealing with that issue directly, speaks to the problem of not communicating, of not listening to others, of cutting yourself off.
Over reliance on writing is also hurting our ability to speak in public, to feel comfortable saying things and holding that space between people where we exchange views to talk, not necessarily to change minds, but to elaborate together. We do have a conversation problem, when most of our communication happens online, by email, text, or in social networks, we get used to thinking about our allotted space as the compose page or comments box.
The difference between the box and the process:
A comment is: a note explaining, illustrating, or criticizing the meaning of a writing; an observation or remark expressing an opinion or attitude; a judgment expressed indirectly.
Conversation is: oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas; an informal discussion of an issue by representatives of governments, institutions, or groups; or simply an exchange.
Comments are not the same as conversation. They're easier, reactions are easier still, as in fave, like, retweet... and so on.
Scanning news or link titles leaves us with unprocessed fragments and words. It takes time to form an opinion and work to hold one within our values, and it starts by having the conversation with our selves.
The other side of complexity is not reaction. That would be simplistic. Simplicity requites awareness, knowledge of the issues, honesty, sincerity, and the desire to help tease out what we can help clarify. We need to go through having the conversation to come out better on the other side.
Making choices requires a clear understanding of who and what creates value. When we focus on process, we're less busy being right, or getting our way, and more invested in what's happening with our feelings, our body, and our mind. Rather that getting stuck on positions, we delve into understanding issues. Along with engaging our curiosity, this type of process makes the work much more enjoyable.
This helps us:
- take control of what we think (and also what happens in the moment)
- be less attached to judging (more empathy, but also compassion)
- access our untapped power (though an open mind)