It might be in the church parking lot, the school yard, on blogs and Facebook, but wherever they occur conversations take place. Sometimes they are quite benign and maybe even uplifting. But they can also be destructive. When misunderstandings occur or miscommunication occurs, mistrust often emerges. Since we're in a political season, where attack ads dominate the scene, and creation of mistrust has become a political art form, it maybe wise to stop and think about the nature of conversation, especially in relationship to the question of trust.
I will be writing a review shortly of Martin Marty's new book from Eerdmans entitled Building Cultures of Trust. Marty is a wise elder statesman, whose Sightings postings generally appear on this site each Monday. I have high regard for him as a historian and as a Christian sage. So, when Marty speaks, I tend to listen.
A central theme in this book that focuses on building cultures of trust is the way way we communicate (or miscommunicate). Although he uses the science/religion axis as a key analogy, it is clear that the points made in the book cover all forms of conversation. Thus, in this regard, he speaks of true conversation in this way:
In true conversation, one listens (picture the scientist hearing the religionist) just as one speaks (imagine the same scientist doing the talking as the religionist listens); in that interchange, ideas flow and confidence has a chance to build. If conversation involves one partner always having to await time to speak, bursting unbidden on the speech of someone else, then true conversation is not occurring and cannot occur. The fundamentalist in religion or in science has no patience for hearing the other and has the impulse only to denounce the other. However, the "other," in the act of conversing, wants to inform and educate him-or herself. The good conversationalist helps the other organize and assess reality. He may often include invitations in conversation: bids to have the other join him and his friends in designated places. Conversations, as everyone knows, go on at all levels, whether about grocery lists, the prospect of removing a wisdom tooth, facing prostate cancer, batting averages, or the ordination of homosexuals to the clergy. (Building Cultures of Trust., p. 128)
The value of such conversations is that they can, when engaged in with open hearts and minds, the conversation partners into new levels of engagement. Indeed, Marty suggests that so-called "trivial conversation" can help set the stage for building trust. Whenever we engage in trust building efforts, we are risking ourselves. When one side insists that it has the truth and won't listen to the other, trust cannot be built.
So, what is the "moral" of this story for us? I think we might try to have a conversation -- a civil conversation -- about finding ways of communicating effectively with each other. I know that it is easy to engage in one-sided conversations (read arguments). I've engaged in them quite often. I'm a rather opinionated chap, which is in part why I set up this blog, so I could share my opinions on matters of theology, politics, etc. But, hopefully it is more than a place to voice opinions. Hopefully, this can be a place where a conversation can develop. I may set things out in stark terms to get the conversation going, but hopefully we can use this as a way of entering into a fruitful conversation. and not simply a series of tirades!