By Julie Dieterle
Perhaps it’s my generation (born in the 1940’s), or the wisdom that age brings, but I like talking face-to-face. I find texting to be “flat”, by that I mean just words. Admittedly, I succumb to that mode of communication at times. It is handy to pass on information, confirm a detail where you just don’t need to do more. It is instant. However, texting loses something in translation. Given the bare-ness of the texted message, the receiver can be left filling in the feeling or deeper meaning—accurate or not. Often, we don’t ask for clarification before coming to a conclusion. Was that text a suggestion?, observation?, or end of discussion statement?? Was it said as demanding as it seems, or just the way the words came across to me?? Voice mail can be just as misleading. In contemplating these thoughts, I realize I might be unwilling to take time, or fear getting entangled in the other person’s business, ideas or life (unfortunate but true).
Many of us have had the experience of looking around the restaurant and seeing how many patrons are focused on their devices, not food or friends. Have we lost the gift of conversation? When was the last time you heard a lively and uninterrupted conversation? OR Did we feel uncomfortable with what we thought was an argument?
Several statements I have recently heard have “pricked” my curiosity—what do you think?
- A parent attempted to sue an institution of higher education because a professor espoused views in opposition with his beliefs that he didn’t want his offspring exposed to.
- A Dartmouth study reported of 432 students responding to rooming preference, 39% of democrats, 12% republicans, and 16% independents said they would be uncomfortable rooming with opposing party persons.
- Research shows that, for the first time in more than two decades, members of both political parties have strongly unfavorable opinions of their opponents.
Along with those statements, we are given the many challenges to our long-held values and beliefs—conservative vs. liberal, sexual conduct or misconduct, immigration, religious integrity-to name a few. We are exposed to the events, stories, or opinions on the news–without opportunities to get more than one side of the issue. I wonder if we aren’t left being irritated or frustrated without an outlet for probing for more depth or further inquiry. On the other hand, are we afraid of getting into an intractable battle of words with someone who just wants to change our minds?
I acknowledge that many of us really don’t like to argue. We see it as being placed in an atmosphere of being victimized or assaulted verbally, being put on the defensive and unprepared, or not even being given a chance to speak our truth and be heard. It is impossible to hear, to really listen, when on either end of such a situation. It would be great if we could be comfortable with uncomfortable conversations.
It takes courage to “face our dragons” (those controversial topics). Inability to do so only increases our defensiveness. We are more reticent and more isolated in the range of topics we share and expose. Constantly talking with only like-minded people can increase our fear of the “other” and polarizes our thinking even more. Is it time for us to question our beliefs and values? Are they still true? Do they serve us still? Professor Clark-Pugara says “feeling uncomfortable can be a good thing because that is where you learn to grow”.
What opportunities do we have that expose us to other points of view in places of relaxed openness and safety–experiences that are face to face with another human being of different ethnic background and belief?
I recall, with fondness, where we students could gather over a bag-lunch and discuss topics such as religion and spirituality, science and theology, philosophy and science. One of my favorite classes was a consortium of professors from three different schools discussing social science, quantum physics, and mathematics-and being pleasantly surprised what each could offer the other.
Clearly my choices brought diversity to my life. Exposure to ideas, face-to-face, allows a broader range of experience, more chances to understand another culture, other beliefs and values. Ultimately it leads me to be open-minded and more comfortable in the world. Steve Quintana, director of Diversity Dialogues at UW says… to recognize that all people (not just those who are obviously similar to them) are “living rich, interesting, and complex lives”. Perhaps it will deepen social understanding and make it more likely that people will understand and appreciate (if not always love) why others act the way they do and hold certain views. One on one, and in the same room, allows us to see the person, the human just like me in many ways.
In a stimulating article in the Spring On Wisconsin Magazine, Louisa Kamps wrote an article “Room for Debate.” Despite evidence of lively conversations heard…She said she was “still worried about our collective capacity to have deep conversations about tough topics with people who aren’t already our friends or colleagues and who we suspect see the world from a different perspective.”
“Talk”, says author Louisa Kamps…“is so vital to staying alive and engaged: our world is never going to be perfect, and individuals and systems will inevitably let us down. But we should by no means withdraw or give up.”
“By debating and grappling with new ideas together with others, in real time—riding tides of confrontation, without getting too rattled, watching as another’s face lights up and falls and lights up again—we get to take another look at what we think, and make it better.”
“But we can’t get there with silence.”