Conversation is underrated.
And I think it's underrated because it's overlooked. I think it's the most valuable method of humanization that we have; the most valuable method of making someone else, an other, into someone we know, respect, and even love.
Good conversation is communication, and good conversation is a conduit for communication of what is in people's hearts, souls and memories. Conversation, one on one conversation, is one of the most vulnerable and powerful things we can have with another person. It is intimate, and I think, most powerfully, makes the other person realer to us than they would have ever been otherwise.
And we need to do more of it.
To be honest, it's taken me a very long time to enjoy having conversation at all. Since I broke out of my shy shell in Gr.7, I have found it very easy to engage in small talk. All you need is a little awareness of the other person and away you go. That doesn't mean I have particularly enjoyed it. I found it a waste of time, verbal diarrhoea all in the name of filling silence. To an extent I still feel that way, although I've learned to temper that with the fact that I can genuinely learn about someone through small talk as well. What I did enjoy though was talking in a group of people. It was almost like performing, something which I've always liked doing. You're presenting yourself, presenting yourself to other people. Me talking in front or with a group of people felt posting an Instagram picture. I could curate my words for maximum effect (like a dope Insta caption), for maximum laughs (like a funny face), and for maximum audience appreciation (put a picture of Big Ben in your Insta and let the likes pour in). Turn on the charm, and then you're good to go; your curated image of yourself is ready for consumption.
What I shied away from for a very long time was talking about something I never liked talking about: that I was poorer than almost everyone I met. It seems a bit silly to look back on that now when I feel so free to talk about it now, but back then it was always my brick wall, the locked door. I assumed people didn't want to know that about myself, to know that while they pouted that they didn't get the birthday present they wanted I stayed quiet because my family couldn't afford to buy me anything for my birthday. I assumed no one wanted to know. That's why I never liked one on one conversations, in fact I was petrified by them. I've always been very good at hiding my feelings, but that becomes harder and more uncomfortable to do when you're the sole focus of someone's attention. You can't perform for an audience of one. First of all, that's no fun, and second of all, you can't just walk away. You're stuck, stuck having to talk about yourself to another person. Luckily, many times when one on one conversations have happened most of the time the other person felt free to talk most of the time, which I was always pretty happy about. Otherwise though, it was uncomfortable. I didn't like it at all.
It was a strange sort of breakthrough in university, when I told a few of my friends what I felt was my biggest secret. The way they reacted was strange to me. They almost didn't react at all. At first I was like: so this is my biggest secret and they react like THIS? But then I realized: to them it wasn't a big deal, because they wanted to know me and my struggles and fears. They didn't just want to know the charming, happy go-lucky Nathan Henderson. They wanted to know me for all that I was, just as I wanted to know them for all that they were; the good and the bad. Because here's the thing: good friends are good not because they love the best versions of you, but because they love you.
Conversation is this sense helps me to show all of my humanity to another person, and in turn, helps me to know the humanity of the other person.
Dehumanization is probably the easiest that it has ever been. And I say that because of the Internet. It's so easy to take a quote, to see a picture, to see any tiny tidbit of what someone has said, done or looks like and then judge them based on that. When we judge people based on that, we reduce them to something much less than what they are. We reduce them to their skin colour, to their gender, to their class, to their political leanings, whatever it is.
We reduce them to far less than what they are. And it's so, so easy. It's even comforting. For all of our love of anti-heroes and gray areas we have this inscribed ability and preconception - all of us - to be able to see some people as the enemy and some as our friends. Regardless of whether you think in those terms or not, I would venture to say that it's true of every single person, no matter how tolerant or open you think you may be; it is our natural urge to demonize before humanize.
But I was reminded of the power that conversation has to break all that on a bus ride back from Salamanca, about two weeks ago. I was sitting next to a good friend that I met here in Madrid, another intern from Australia. Now, to be clear, we were not enemies, and we weren't in danger of demonizing each other. In fact, we get along great and I count her among one of the best friends I've made here in Spain. But we believe different things, whether it be about religion or relationships or whatever. We come from different backgrounds, we look different. There's a lot of things that we could look at each other by and reduce each other to. But as we talked, for about two and half hours straight, and listened to each other, I realized that none of those differences mattered. I reminded about why I've grown to love one on one conversations with other people so much.
There was no space for reduction, for taking something one of us was saying and defining the other by it. By talking, and listening (most importantly listening) to each other, we grew in understanding and respect for each other. Because regardless of where we differed, we saw each other as human.
We need so much more of this today. It's so easy for all of us to reduce our brothers and sisters around us to less than they are. Before we do that, I want to plead with you. Know that every single person on this earth is fearfully and wonderfully made. That they are God's creation, loved fiercely and eternally. They have their own experiences, their own struggles, their own rationales for believing what they believe. And we, while not duty-bound to agree with them, are bound by our heavenly Father to see them as He sees them.
And that's what conversation with another person helps me do. Maybe it can help you do that too.