Saturday, November 19, 2011

The art of conversation

I'm really bad with old acquaintances. Like, horrifically rude. I always worry that people don't remember me, so instead of making things awkward and weird by treating them like a long-lost friend, playing "let's catch up", I ignore them. And pretend I don't know them so we can get reacquainted again. Because to be fair it's not like I knew them super well in the first place! Ah, but, predictably, this has a very inconsistent success rate. 

I was faced with this reality last night when I found out the class mentor for our service project today was a fellow homeschool graduate who had been involved with Teenpact around the same time as me. Though I was cheered by the prospect of having someone dependable to help with the service project, I also anticipated it would be an awkward "hey I know your face but who are you again?" reunion. 

It was. A little. 

We had to endure a 45 minute bus ride up to Providence, and then back again to campus, and once we exhausted the reintroductions, I hoped we could make do with looking out the window in comfortable silence. Because that's what practically strangers do, right? And we did, at intervals. But every so often, he would break my concentration on the passing landscape by asking me questions. 

They started out standard enough. What have you been up to these days? Work, school, fun? Future plans? What's your favorite time of year? As the ride grew longer the questions got more creative. What's the relationship between volunteerism and the Church? What three people from history (excluding the Bible and your family) would you choose as mentors and why? What do you consider to be the biggest atrocity and tragedy (besides Christlessness) in the world today? That last one was really hard, I told him it was too hard to answer, and he said that's because it says more about the person responding than it says about the state of the world. Hm. 

I guess that's what good conversation is. Asking thoughtful questions. 

I noticed he did this all day. All the students laughed among themselves over the relentless reminding they'd received from him about showing up for the project. From the moment he arrived on site he was engaging the students, asking them about their weekends and their plans for Thanksgiving. He approached the make-up students not part of his class, and chatted with them about their freshman year and why they were at URI. When we boarded the bus he talked to the bus driver about her job and her life and how her day had been. At the work site he asked pertinent questions of the coordinator, those questions that you're interested to know the answer to but you never think to ask. 

The thing is (and granted, I don't know him very well, but) he doesn't seem to be very extroverted. I suppose he's the quiet, studious type. Not super vivacious or chatty. Even in Teenpact he never said very much. Our bus conversation wasn't constant, it has its share of lulls and silences. When I asked his questions back at him, he seemed surprised and unprepared at the opportunity to answering them. I wonder if conversations with strangers aren't natural to him, and that fills me with admiration. 

I want to be like that! Caring more about engaging people than catering to what make me feel comfortable. People are always the most important thing. Not my selfishness, or insecurities, or irrational fear of awkward. Talk to people. Ask thoughtful questions. It shows that you care.

Don't ignore random old acquaintances. You might learn something about the art of conversation.

1 comment:

Nicole said...

Good stuff!! Hate that awkwardness though...