A Conversation Diet
Diet books proliferate, especially after the annual holiday season. Atkins? South Beach? Low-carbs? Many folks make New Year's resolutions to cut back, trim down, eat more nourishing foods.
How about a new diet for our conversations?
We do much of our psychological feeding during our conversations with others. But what kind of thoughts and feelings are we consuming? And what kind are we dishing out to others? With our physical bodies, we are what we eat. In our psychological beings, we generally become what we feed upon during interaction.
Here are some thoughts for a nourishing conversation diet:
1. If you are prone to talking a lot (as I am), consider a verbal fast in which you say less, and more mindfully. Leave some spaces between your expressed thoughts so that you give others time to digest what you say and for you to hear them. Let less be more.
On a recent visit to Hawaii, I attended a Christmas Eve social event a kind of open house. The living room was crowded with small clusters of people, and the hostess seated me at one group in which a loquacious psychologist was holding forth to the exclusion of all the others. On he went, laughing at his own edgy humor, barely taking breaths. Rushing on, in full performance mode, he dominated our group of seven, eliminating any possibility of social conversation. (After about 10 minutes of his “See me!” activity, I moved on.)
2. Consider what you listen to, and from whom. Thoughtful talk? Positive, encouraging, empathetic talk? Or nay-saying, argument, doom-and-glooming, and cynicism? Or gossip and superficial chatter, the twinkies of talk?
As you come to the buffet of talk, you may find all of these served up. Which are the better entrees? Select those and politely decline the others as you would a high-cholesterol food that's not good for you.
3. Consider offering helpings of interest, kindness, and understanding when you talk with others. These verbal meals seem to be in demand in a hurry-up world where contact if too often hit-and-run, too rarely connected in depth.
A few weeks ago I met with three longtime male friends for a holiday lunch. After a bit of pleasant social talk, the conversation turned more philosophical, with each sharing some special life experience and lessons learned along the way. One particularly wise friend (89) shared his insights about the process of aging and the value of friendship. At the conclusion, I departed inspired. The talk had been contemplative, but not at all somber, and with much good humor. When we were intent on being both authentic in who we were and mindful about what we said, wonderful things happened.
4. Finally, consider and be selective about the conversations you listen to in the media. The producers of the interview shows and panels of pundits believe that conflict sells, and they provide it in black and white. After viewing a particular show, ask yourself if you are wiser, or only more agitated. Too often the panelists are not seeking to understand each other, but only to dispute and have the final word. Such shows are not a good and healthy verbal diet to consume. Fortunately, there are some good radio and television talk shows that actually enlighten and uplift. Best to select these and avoid the programs that offer only verbal fast-food.