The Lost Art of Conversation

communication, community, conversation, Lloyd Osler, technology -

The Lost Art of Conversation

A couple of weeks ago, I took my lovely bride of forty-three years, out to one of our favourite vegan restaurants.  Sitting off to the side from us, was a charming young couple, I would estimate in their late twenties.  The first thing they did when they sat down was to take out their smart phones and start texting. Not the kind of texting that say, “We are at dinner, talk later”, but it appeared they were texting each other, at least in part because one or the other would burst out laughing, even though they had hardly exchanged a word since they sat down. This messaging was interrupted by the waiter asking for their order and resumed immediately after he left, continuing until their food arrived.  Now I don’t know what they were texting about and they certainly seemed happy and obviously in love, so it wasn’t all a text fest.  They did begin a real conversation over dinner, though their phones were close at hand, just in case.

And this is not an isolated incident.  How many of you have observed a group of teenagers in a mall, sitting together, yet messaging each other back and forth on their phones, or snapping pictures of each other for Instagram?  Where is their conversation?  

These examples do underline a point that we live in a digital world, where smart phones, texting and SnapChat are king.  In many ways it has become a preferred way of communication.  In the sales business I am in, the new privacy laws in my country require me to get permission from my customers for their “preferred way of communication”.  As you would expect, the demographics breaks down in age groups, from “this is my home number, I don’t own a cell", through to, “email or text”, and the occasional, “don’t call me, I’ll call you”.  

Preferred way of communication? Whatever happened to the art of conversation?  The real issue in all of this is that a ten second sound bite, a short text message or even a 140 character twitter message, is hardly enough to express a real idea or feeling.  It’s interesting to note, that the rush to have a thousand emojis in our digital world, is to express emotions.  Somehow I never find it difficult to express emotion if I’m talking to someone.  Sometimes it only takes a look.

There are other effects that come into play in our digital world.  Not that many years ago, when someone said they would meet you at a certain place and time, they tended to mean it, shook hands on it, and would feel bad, as would you, if they didn’t show up.  Today, it’s all too easy to send a terse text message to cancel that meeting, no interaction needed.  It’s easy to see how, with less and less actual conversation, feelings of carelessness and disconnection are silently creeping into our lives.  

We have a rule at our house, cell phones are not allowed at the dinner table when we have guests.  We crave to have a conversation with our family and friends.  I’ve even got to the point, when I am out for lunch or dinner with friends, I go old school, and yes, you guessed it, turn the damn phone off, at least for that hour or so we are together.  We don’t normally need to be instantly available, it’s much better to live in and appreciate that moment we will never have again.

So at the foundation for understanding diversity and inclusion, in our every increasing hectic world, is the art of conversation.  If we are not having conversations with each other, regardless of colour, gender, ethnic background or age, how on earth are we ever going to be able to understand those differences in such a way as to appreciate one another?

If we gather together and talk, what a rich opportunity to discover how others work, live and raise families in our community.  My children had the opportunity to be raised in a very diverse cultural community.  Our house was known amongst their friends as the United Nations home, everyone was welcome.  Sometimes it was even a sanctuary when needed.  And of course, lots of conversations that brought understanding to the fundamental truth that we are all of one human race.  

Our daughter painted the bench that is the header image for this article, and her husband installed it today, on the corner of their property, her childhood home. It’s part of a Bench Program they started in their community that encourages neighbours to stop and visit and get to know one another.  Many other people in their community, including local churches, have also placed benches at the front of their properties.  It’s like bringing back the old front porch where friends and neighbours dropped by to chat.  What a wonderful idea.  We can all make a difference.

On a broader scale within my city, some years ago, a couple of radio personalities and a newspaper columnist, saw a need for people to meet and get to know each other. They started a group, called “The Art of Conversation”, of which I am proud to be a member. It started and continues today, on a very simple premise: “come out and bring a friend, to meet others in your city, and start a conversation”.   It’s not a place to push one’s business or political agenda, simple a monthly get-together, sponsored at various hosting restaurants around the city, to meet and greet others.  It typically starts at 4:30 pm and lasts until the last two people leave.  What a wonderful way to meet people.  I’m sure there are similar groups in other cities around the world and certainly worth checking out in your local community. If there isn’t one, why not start one?

I know that the more we put down our smart phones, revive the lost art of conversation and engage with a diverse and inclusive group of people, it might surprise us, how smart we become.  By the way, you never know if someone in your group is a writer like me, so remember — anything you say or do, may be used in a story — anonymously of course. 

Making a Difference

In the quiet early hours of the morn,
The break of day, the sun begins to warm.
The joy, the peace, of thoughts so clear.
Engaged with nature, would appear
To underscore ones fortune in it all,
To be alive, to make a difference, however small.

—Lloyd Osler

 

Lloyd Osler

About the Author: Lloyd Osler is a veteran, professional engineer, serial entrepreneur and business leader with heart. He has seized every opportunity to reinvent himself, resulting in several challenging, and exciting careers throughout 50 years in the military, advanced education, IT and health industries.

What a ride! And #notyetdone — he is exercising his right brain in pursuing his passion as a writer.

Lloyd relishes the opportunity to give back and has a long history of mentoring in education, business and community. Husband to one, father of four, papa to five, he is passionate about future generations and is a strong advocate of social issues such as mental health, gender diversity, and equality. He currently serves on the international Advisory Board of sitatthetable.org, promoting global gender mentoring and equality in business. He is also a co-founder at cormosaic.shop. Follow Lloyd on Twitter at @powerofpapa.

At various times in one's life, there comes a moment to evaluate where we are and where we want to be, who we are and what we want to become. Seize the moment and change. No time to waste. —Lloyd Osler


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