Just Talk

I was running this week with a colleague and he needed to stop for a breather. Now I could seek to skite and say he couldn’t keep up with my incredible pace, but in reality, he was a novice runner and I was pushing things a bit too hard. Within a few kilometres I would also need to rest at that pace.

We stopped running and started to walk and talk. We started to learn more about each other’s story. The task of running soon gave way to good conversation.

Reflecting on the experience, it has been a great reminder of the power of simple conversation in our hectic world. In the midst of busyness and noise we live in a world at risk of losing the art of conversation.

When I was out with one of my children recently we sat together having a coffee and hot chocolate and I asked Imogen what she wanted to do. Her quick reply: “Just talk”. Quickly the words “but what do you really want to do” came to mind, but I am thankful I didn’t speak them. I should have been celebrating. I should have been thankful she wasn’t on a device, she didn’t want to be entertained, she wasn’t requesting activity – she wanted simple conversation. Suddenly I was struck by how quickly we can embrace the default position of busyness and information overload at the expense of a good old yarn.

In our 24-7-365 culture where time is a precious commodity, talk can become “cheap”. I keep reminding myself of the vital need to reclaim the art of good, rich, life-giving conversation.

In my previous work with BaptistCare – a large Christian care provider – I met many people doing life on the margins; lonely, isolated and vulnerable people. So often in a success-driven world these people felt voiceless. They often felt their stories didn’t matter. I soon learned the power of sitting with such people and letting them chat. The simple art of conversation validated their story. It opened doors to dignity and worth. They were no longer on their own – well at least for a short period of time.

I always remember one man – let’s call him Fred. He was in his late sixties. His wife had died. His family had left him behind. He struggled with mental health issues. He lived alone. He struggled with isolation and loneliness, two of the biggest hidden ills in our society. He would come into one of our community centres five days a week. He didn’t ask for help. He never wanted money or food. But he yearned for companionship. He yearned for conversation.

If I was to do my job well managing a large suite of community services, I was reminded that if I didn’t have time for Fred then I wasn’t really putting my organisation’s vision into practice. Fred kept me real. His key need – a ten-minute meaningful conversation where he was listened to, where his story was validated.

In all areas of life, I sense we need to be intentionally reclaiming the art of conversation. It is good for the soul. It is good for us and others.

We live in a world where we can email the person ten metres away in the office rather than walk and chat from time to time. Where families can go out for dinner and all sit on devices and rarely make eye contact. Where we can travel long distances but determine not to talk to the person beside us. Where fear can stop us reaching out to a stranger, particularly one from another culture. In such a world, many of us may need some “re-training” in the simple art of talking to other people with a sense of genuine interest and curiosity – with no other motive needed.

Research suggests that this key challenge begins in the home, where so often in the busyness of life couples can spend less than thirty minutes a week in quality communication and where parents, particularly dads, can spend even less in face to face conversation with their kids.

In the Gospels I am struck time and time again by Jesus’ interest and engagement with ordinary people. He came to a diverse range of people and His interest in their lives validated their worth and story. Behind many Gospel encounters I am sure is a library of rich and purposeful ordinary conversations.

My experience this week has reminded me of the importance of reclaiming the art of good conversation.

What might that mean for you?

  • · Maybe it’s an intentional 15-minute sit down every day with your partner
  • · Maybe it’s building in “distraction-free date and conversation time” with your kids
  • · Maybe it’s dropping in with a cake and having a cuppa with someone you know who struggles with isolation
  • · Maybe it’s opening your eyes and heart to someone who seems bereft of company in your local community
  • · Maybe it’s downing tools more often in the workplace and getting to know your colleagues

I was on a tram recently heading into the Melbourne CBD and a young man opposite was in tears having just ended a phone call. My heart said start a conversation. My head said mind you own business. Thankfully I went with my heart! For twenty-five minutes he shared his story and the pain of breaking up with his long-term girlfriend. He was on his way home to his parents. He needed to hug and chat with his mum – such a good thing to do. We approached my stop and I apologised that there wasn’t more I could do.

He jumped up – he gave me an unexpected big hug – and he said: “Mate, you’ve done heaps. You took an interest and you listened to me!”

Simple, caring, attentive conversation – it is a gift we can give to others. It is a gift we give to ourselves.

Scott Pilgrim