It seems that the art of conversation has become more of a one-sided monologue as society moves us further and further into a “selfie” world. Increasingly, people seem to only want to talk about themselves, and if you try to engage in a dialogue, they simply ignore what you have said (or perhaps give a glancing nod to acknowledge you have spoken) and continue blathering on about themselves.
I feel this painful lack of connection in the world more acutely because Step 12 teaches us how to engage in meaningful dialogue. I am spoiled by the richness of outreach calls when each person gets an opportunity to share about themselves and the other actually asks questions to further draw out the speaker. There is clearly a curiosity and interest in what is being said.
How to Have a Conversation
The art of conversation as a dialogue of give and take is a precious gift that should be nurtured and encouraged. But I think a preoccupation with self (self-centeredness) has now spun out of control because of social media, selfie-sticks, and the multi-tasked brain that cannot focus on much for long.
The solution to this problem is summed up in these lines from one of my favorite movies, “Enter Laughing,” where the director (Carl Reiner) is fed up with the wooden performance of his leading man (Reni Santoni) who barks his lines at the same time his leading lady is speaking. The director finally yells at him, ““Keep your mouth shut when she’s speaking. She Talks. You answer. You talk. She answers. It’s what they call conversation.”
I encourage, no, implore you, to cultivate the ability to engage meaningfully with others by being an active listener wherever you go.
Practice with Outreach Calls
In program, outreach can sometimes be challenging. We may be fearful of picking up the phone to call someone we don’t know very well, yet we are encouraged to do so to increase the network of people to whom we can turn in times of difficulty as well as to provide service within the fellowship. That is where active listening can take the sting out of the experience.
When we make the call, we can start out by asking the other person how they are doing. Engaging in active listening can mean asking them questions about what they tell you. It can lead to sharing our own experiences that relate to what the speaker is saying. All of this leads to meaningful connection, which is at the heart of Step 12.
Please understand that I’m not suggesting that you not share your own pain and experiences. Doing so is a cornerstone of our program. What I’m talking about is an obsession with self that doesn’t allow one to deeply connect with another.
Bringing the Message of Recovery
We are far more effective in bringing the message of recovery to others when they feel heard and validated. Just as at a meeting, we are asked to listen to others’ testimony which may bring inspiration, so, too, in our daily life, in and out of program, we can hear the voice of our Higher Power as it speaks through others with whom we engage.