Thursday, January 3, 2013

Elements of a Good Conversation

What are the elements of a good conversation? asks a priest in a recent column on happiness. First: Listen carefully to the other, he says, especially when involved in counseling work. There are few people in their 30s and 40s who don't already know the answers to their problems, even if they have come for advice. We need only listen attentively and sympathetically to their complaints.

Second: Put aside the desire to win. In many conversations we often try to convince the other person of the righteousness of our position. It's even difficult to convince family members so you can imagine the difficulty of trying to convince others who don't share your background. 

People find it difficult to change their thinking. The Jews for 400 years were slaves in Egypt; when they received their freedom, they could not forget their past. It took another 40 years of discipline in the dessert to rid themselves of the slave mentality. And even after our Lord arose from the dead, it was difficult to change the thinking of the Apostles.

In life, we select some aspects of life as worthy of pursuing; others that should be ignored. In baseball, for example, a batter is considered good if he's able to select the right ball to hit, at least one out of three times, making the player an elite hitter. Balls are thrown high, low and off to the side  in an attempt to get the batter to make an out. This is often how it is in life. Selecting the right ball, or story, is not easy. To think we are going to put the ball in play all the time or win the heart of those we love all the time with our words is as unrealistic as a baseball player who never makes an out.

Third: Learn to lose graciously. For Koreans, he says, this is difficult to do. Everyone feels the urge to win, to do well in whatever field they are competing in. Children, he says, who are taught to accept the possibility of losing will live properly, but few today, young or old, know how to lose with grace.

Fourth: Do not listen only to one side and then come to a decision, based on some prior knowledge that may now be inadequate. In our faith life, as in other aspects of life, we can be moved by some new and enticing idea that will later prove to be erroneous.

Fifth: End your conversation cordially. There are times when relating with others causes us to be upset. No matter how difficult the conversation has been, we should leave with some kind word for the other. He describes our Lord's conversation, while hanging on the cross, with one of the two thieves nailed to the cross beside him, as an example of a good conversation.

Sixth: Do not quarrel. Better than clumsily judging is to have the wisdom to leave it up to God. Before we are certain and before much thought, it is best not to rebuke another. "Before investigating, find no fault; examine first, then criticize. Before hearing, answer not, and interrupt no one in the middle of his speech. Dispute not about what is not your concern; in the strife of the arrogant take no part" (Sirach 11:7-9).

Words can bring both joy and grief, and the words of the good thief who brought him salvation at the very end of his life should be an example to us of how words can bring not only blessings but a more fulfilling life to us.