In the vein of never being too old or too proud to learn, I shall share what an adult daughter taught me recently. I am from a family of talkers, a gregarious group that could almost all speak at once and conversations were still followed. The ability to be a good conversationalist was deemed an art form and a necessary one at that. Being one who enjoys a deep, stimulating conversation (don’t we all?) bent towards discovery, not persuasion, I did realize that everyone has different preferences when it comes to dialogue. But life is very short, so I believe in getting to the point: sharing ourselves and our experiences, perspectives. Isn’t that how we reveal ourselves to one another and experience a different vantage point from which we can learn something new? Challenge our understanding and examine life from a different viewpoint? Such conversations can eventually start to even change our own opinions over time. Digesting, reflecting, choosing are all valued in my worldview.
Some of us are introverts (we prefer to talk in groups of 2) or extroverts (the more the merrier) and so forth. When meeting someone new, I was taught to not ask personal questions, but to show interest in the other person by gentle questions that encourage the other to feel comfortable and encouraged to speak. Typically, unless the other is a terrible bore, the dialogue develops a mutual back and forth sharing that uncovers mutual interests, mutual relatives if you are from the South, or the very least, a sense that each has contributed to the conversation, has uplifted the whole in some small way.
I was also aware that dialogue requires a certain amount of vulnerability with which others may be uncomfortable, thus the “not personal” questions. For a large variety of reasons, the other may prefer not to disclose much. Perhaps the error of my perspective is already apparent to you.
I shared with my daughter a recent conversation that baffled me. This acquaintance, our third conversation, and I were in a small group, but her inability to reply to my most general questions with more than one word offended me, which hopefully I hid well. She is clearly bright, so it wasn’t a lack of ability to articulate or be quick-witted. She would offer funny conversation and interactive verbal play with a child in the group, for instance. I summarized that she lacked the ability to be vulnerable in adult conversation which my daughter quickly denied.
Her view was that many people do not want to discuss anything about themselves on any level because it doesn’t interest them, and it had nothing to do with vulnerability. She suggested a mutual acquaintance of ours whom she pointed out was best with no conversation at all – to simply share the same space met all needs for a good time. Another family with whom she had spent a couple of weeks and while a pleasant time, she had never once received any question about herself.
Suddenly I was mortified. The narrowness of my perspective overwhelmed me as in my mind I suddenly appeared as a predatory mouth with all the best intentions. Gentle reader, if you have been subjected to me or anyone like me, please assume we meant well. Next time, when you join my group you will find me smiling brightly, but silently – unless someone offers me a question.