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.