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04.12.2017

The Art of Conversation

‘A little less conversation, a little more action please.’

It’s one of those songs – a bit like ‘Mr Brightside’ – that everyone in our generation knows the lyrics to but no-one is entirely sure how or why.

But what if this Elvis Presley hit, with its simple lyrics and earworm-like qualities, has had more of an impact on our culture than we realise? Since it was remixed by JXL in 2002, it’s been used in various adverts, films, and a handful of political campaigns. Mitt Romney even used it as his campaign song when he ran for US President in 2008.

A little less conversation, a little more action please. Let’s stop talking shop and actually start doing something. Enough of the bickering, let’s just get on with making a difference.

In some ways, it’s the mantra of our generation – the millennials, the ones who want to ‘change the world’, ‘make a difference’, and ‘do something meaningful’. And everyone knows we’re not going to do that just by sitting around and talking about it.

But what if conversation was the pathway to actually making a difference? What if it wasn’t just about getting up and going off to do something, but instead spending time thinking about and engaging with others who have similar passions but different perspectives?

When we fail to engage in meaningful conversation with other people, and instead just ‘do’ things, we are failing to allow ourselves a chance to develop proper relationships. When we listen only to reply rather than to understand, we dishonour the voices and opinions of those with whom we are conversing.

A little less conversation, a little more action please. It’s often said that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. It seems that such an attitude is the outworking of not wanting to talk about things before we do them. Of not wanting to engage with those who disagree with us, because we might have to take time to think more carefully about what we’re doing, rather than just diving right in.

And what about when people do disagree with us? What then? If we adopt the mantra of ‘a little less conversation, a little more action please’ the natural response is to ‘agree to disagree’ and go our separate ways without ever really discussing anything at all. But what if that isn’t the best way?

As Christians, I think we’re often scared of people disagreeing with us. I know I am. I’m scared that people will think I’m stupid. I’m worried that if someone disagrees with me, they’ll put it down to my religious beliefs, rather than a well-thought through argument. I’m worried I’ll fall into the trap of doing the same to them – brushing off their viewpoint because ‘they’d understand if they believed in God’.

But when dialogue and good disagreement happens, partnerships begin to form. The most unlikely of people come together and start to make a difference – interfaith dialogue, cross-party political pressure groups, environmental campaigns… the list goes on.

Dialogue – conversation, if you will – matters. It matters not only because one of the best ways to refine your arguments is to engage with someone who disagrees with you, but because in doing so you honour those with whom you disagree, and learn something about why they believe what they do. Conversation, although it isn’t physically ‘doing’ anything, is one of the best foundations for getting things done in the most effective and efficient way possible.

So although ‘a little more conversation, leading to more efficient action please’ doesn’t quite fit Elvis’ tune, I think it’s a better attitude for our culture, and a more Christian way of working.

Author

Nell Goddard

Comments

  1. Really pertinent thoughts – trying to fit them into the context of a Christian church discussing gender relationships is a challenge!

    By Joy Sutton - 2nd January 2018
  2. Nell, this is a fantastic article. Thank you so much for writing it. We all need to hear what you have to say. I particularly like your thought “When we listen only to reply rather than to understand, we dishonour the voices and opinions of those with whom we are conversing.” That’s the thought that I shall be taking into my conversations with people with whom I have theological disagreement. I think, Joy Sutton, if you concentrate on that, and remembering that Jesus died for everybody and loves everybody, then you will find that ‘discussing gender relationships in church’ will become less of a challenge. Trying to understand people who have a different understanding is, of necessity, a challenge, but one we need to embrace, with love in our hearts. And the knowledge that we may just not be right!

    By Anne Lee - 2nd January 2018
  3. Someone once said to me “Conversation is mentally holding hands”. It is actually quite an active thing to engage in – it doesn’t have to be seen as just something that can lead to action – it is action in its own right and as the writer says, can be proactive and an agent for change – bringing about revised opinions and leading to insights being gained.

    By Margaret Chan - 2nd January 2018
  4. This is definitely a relevant subject for today. People don’t seem to want to communicate or have little desire to be aware of other points of view. Is it because they are worried, all be it briefly, with alternative views? Is this because people live isolated, inauthentic lives relying on gadgets and social media to flaunt who they are in self promotion?

    By agnes - 2nd January 2018

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