In this blog and in other writing, podcasts, interviews and talks, I’ve spoken a lot about conversation, and the need for honest conversation: conversation as a transaction, where honesty and vulnerability and compassion are offered fully on both sides.
One idea for a bigger project — a long blog? a book? a podcast series? — is all about conversation, a skill essential for happiness, balance, productivity and everything in between, but which is a skill that has become eroded by the increasingly isolated, dehumanized digital/virtual world we find ourselves in.
This became so apparent to me in one of my previous careers, where I was responsible for recruiting talented young journalists. These young professionals had come through school and university, many of them with high-class degrees, but the one thing which united them was their inability to hold a conversation. Invitations to pick up the phone — such a staple of the journalist’s trade — were routinely ignored as the routine became to text or email.
I have heard other talented business-people speak about their phobia of the phone, recounting occasions where after dialling a number to call someone, they implored the ringing to go to voicemail so they could avoid the conversation that might ensue.
Conversation is not easy. Honest conversation, where we dispense with the chitchat and small talk, is much more difficult still.
There’s a line in a Kevin Barry story, “Across the Rooftops”, from his blazingly brilliant collection Dark Lies the Island, which has now been adapted (sort of) for a pitch black movie of the same name (trailer here, more details here).
“Across the Rooftops” is about a post-party rooftop encounter between two late teens or young adults, who find themselves in each other’s company and on the cusp of growing up.
At one point, as the depth of the vital unspoken becomes clear, the narration goes,
We talked about everything except the space between us.
This goes on a lot in everyday conversations.
We talk about lots of stuff, but rarely about the important stuff.
It’s not easy to talk about the important stuff. It opens us up to fear and pain and judgment, and even, perhaps, humiliation and exile.
Navigating the space between us is a lifelong challenge. It will always be a challenge. But challenges are there to be taken on, and occasionally overcome.
If we approach the space between us with love and compassion and truth, even if we can’t find or don’t know the right words, then we have a chance of a beautiful moment.
Both of us.