Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The art of conversation

How many times are we able to have the conversation we really want to have -one that can clear all of the debris of misunderstanding and set the way to a clear future? To converse means to see something together with someone. If I see things very differently from them, communication can break down completely. Communicare in Latin literally means to share what is common. The art of meaningful conversation is based on being able to establish a common ground with the person I talk to, irrespective of his or her age, cultural, social or educational background. If I can't or don't make this effort, there is a real danger of the conversation becoming two monologues. This is especially important when the outcome is crucial or the topic difficult.
Over the years I have had the great fortune to visit almost 100 countries covering many cultures and traditions. I can definitely say that the differences between us are quite superficial. We have much more in common with each other then we imagine.
I have asked the question, 'what is important in a good relationship between two human beings?' to the most diverse audiences - scientists in Greece, saleswomen in Argentina, indigenous villagers in Bolivia, workers in India, monks in Korea. Invariably, they all replied what you, the reader, are probably thinking at the moment - respect, trust, honesty, empathy and so on. Mothers love and suffer with their children anywhere, in pretty much the same way. Taxi-drivers in Sydney, Istanbul or Madrid get angry the same way and probably for the same reasons. The words may be different but the gestures are the same. Both the president and the receptionist working in the same company want to be happy if they can, want to love and be loved if possible and seek to understand and be understood. After all, they are both human beings before they are the roles they play.
Underneath the skin colors, creeds, languages and preferences, we value and aspire in a similar way. I just have to stand back and see the common ground where I can meet others as they are without prejudice. Failing to do this leads to misunderstanding and conflict.
I especially have to understand that the image of the other person I carry in my mind is probably not them at all. I talk to 'my' them and they talk to 'their' me. And neither of us really converse with the real self behind the images. 
How many times can my vision see behind a mind that is different from mine, an intellect that works at another level, and a set of personality traits that have little to do with mine? How many times does the soul connect with the soul so that real common understanding can be shared? This is the challenge.

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