A New Take On the Art of Conversation
With the influence of shock jocks, rabid political talk show hosts, and warring politicians, it can seem that conversation has become a take-no-prisoners sport, where the first person to take a breath loses.
Q: What’s a spiritual person to do? Is there a way that we can sanely engage in intelligent conversation that can include differing views without resorting to hostility?
It’s folly to think that you can engage in a discussion with angry people and not become angry yourself.
Q: So, when do you engage people and when do you not?
The point is not to try to engage people, because then you’re trying to hook them into your belief system. That’s all any of it is ultimately—belief systems. Just speak about your experience and your thoughts on your experience. Let it go at that. Don’t engage, don’t continue. By doing so, you stop your own growth, because you become hooked into proving your belief.
Q: Please explain.
The reason engaging people frequently stops growth is that, too often, you become embattled in hopeless disagreements. Or you are hunted by the other person in an argument that becomes a kind of fight to the death to prove that each one is right, where there has to be a winner and a loser. Under that setup, everyone loses and growth on all sides is usually stopped.
Instead, just talk about your experience and how it makes you think and feel, realizing that it is only your experience. How can one argue over an experience? It simply is an experience.
What people argue over is an emotional interpretation, ego, and fear. But if you simply stay within your experience, if people choose to attack to try to force you to an emotional state, you will be able to remain clear that that’s your reality and thoughts on the matter. Working to remain clear is what will help you to continue to grow.
Q: What does conversation look like if this is what people do?
It looks like shared experiences rather than arguments and discussions of proving and disproving. “When this happened to me, this is what I thought and felt. This is how it impacted me.” From a defenseless position, meaning you are not defending a point of view. You are simply sharing an experience. Then you are actually able to remain in a position of truly listening rather than formulating your next rebuttal before the person has even finished their sentence. And, through deeply listening and hearing everyone’s interpretation of their own experience, you can come to understand your own experience more thoroughly.
Q: Then, isn’t there the problem of being accused of self-centered self-absorption?
If you are only talking about your experience, the answer is no. If there is a sharing, it’s an uncovering of who you are rather than a pumping up of ego, or secretly looking for agreement, challenge, or some other hidden agenda. If it’s done with innocence, then it offers other people the opportunity to behave the same way, because there are no false airs or pretenses that anyone has to live up to.
This is an important distinction in understanding the difference between being concerned with telling the truth and sharing your experience. Telling the truth is a position. Talking about your experience is simply talking about your experience. Telling the truth places pressure on “the one right answer,” which is never that clear or simple—until you are clear on why you want to tell the truth, really why you want to tell the truth. Is it a very clever way to keep people at a distance? To control or manipulate? To place yourself higher? To say that you don’t care what other people think when you do, but you wish you didn’t?
These are all lurking at the edges of “telling the truth.” When you set up truth-telling as a goal or an accomplishment, then you set yourself up to trip and fall, or to be tripped by any of these lurking influences, because it so quickly becomes construed as self-righteousness. So rather than being concerned with telling the TRUTH in capital letters, practice telling your experience from moment to moment.
Q: What’s the difference?
The difference is that one speaks to what is, and the other tries to define what isn’t. Truth tries to focus a narrow beam and cut out around itself. The experience simply is. Maybe this will help. When you try to tell the truth, you have made truth-telling a cause rather than an experience.
Q: Can’t speaking the truth be to lighten the life experience, giving us less to carry around in our heads? Can’t the truth really set a person free?
We are speaking of semantics now. Simply by using the word truth and being set free, you instantly trap yourself into limited thinking and limited understanding.
Q: We’re not talking about the truth then; we’re talking about fully explaining our own experience.
Q: Because our truth is just our truth.
There is no truth. There is only the experience. As soon as you speak of the experience, you are filtering it through perception, which is highly inaccurate in most people. So they can be saying that this is the TRUTH in capital letters, and it is simply their perception of an experience, which is inaccurate and therefore, ultimately, untrue in the actual meaning of the word, truth.
This is why people fight because they believe that truth is unchangeable fact. And if they know the truth, then they are permanently right, and therefore need not think on the matter again because they know the truth. It is actually an inhibitor to clear thinking, growth, and expression of experience.
Q: The desire to tell the truth can become entangled with achievement. Thinking if we tell the truth, we will achieve clarity and freedom. But you seem to be saying that it means we will stop looking at that particular truth and become disconnected from that experience in that moment.
Yes. The point is that truth is also involved with ego. Talking about an experience doesn’t involve ego, and in fact, may be quite destructive to ego because you are not trying to hide anything any longer. The ego could find that quite humbling and deconstructing. But if you reveal yourself by speaking of your experiences, you will find that your energy becomes clean very quickly. There will be no solid substance where somebody could hook you into an engagement of the falsehood of discussion, argument, truth-telling. There would be no point because you would see it merely as what it is.
Be careful of the words you use because they become forms of entrapment themselves. It requires constant vigilance of paying attention and experiencing the moment so that you can know what the experience is. In living this way, you’ll find that you will eventually have less and less of a need to speak about much of anything because speaking is filled with inaccuracies and misperceptions. Rather, you will hunger for just the experience, because that’s where you will feel most alive, happy, and healthy.