conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Stop Dead in Your Tracks: #3 in Dummy’s Guide to Conversation

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Could Paying Attention be the New Black?

This has happened to you: Going along. Minding your business. Dashing off small replies to the usual small talk. Maybe you hint at the plus-sized existential questions colliding and storming through your subconscious; the doubts and uncertainties that threaten to spill through your cranium as a conscious thought you even might utter. Maybe you stay silent.

But the internal roiling doesn’t let up.

“What does it all mean,” you mutter under your breath on the elevator to the 23rd floor, remembering your wife’s comment about needing more attention and your boss using pretty much the same words and your doctor stating you need to focus on exercise otherwise diabetes is around the corner. That’s when the person next to you looks up from her phone and says,

“I don’t know, but the CDC says attention deficit disorder is on the rise.”

She smiles half a smile and goes back to her screen.

It hits you: Maybe there is a national attention deficit disorder and your life reflects it. Maybe our screens and multitasking so distract us that full-on attention is rare and becoming rarer. Since we carry the multi-tasking addiction with us into every conversation (like a drunk secretly playing out the context of the next drink), we simply have no bandwidth to attend the need, the threat, or the story (it is National Day of Listening, after all) playing out before us. And suddenly you long for an hour of blissful focus.

Black Friday may be a worthy day to consider that paying attention is the new black: the fashion statement that can only be given, not bought. And paying attention to what we say to each other—really listening—may be a gift that looks more like an investment in the future of a relationship.

If The Word Fits

If the first step in the Dummy’s Guide to Conversation is to open your pie-hole, proving you are both human and alive, then the second step is to listen. And the third step is to be stopped—or at least to be prepared to be stopped. So much of life seems set to automatic pilot. The same bowl of Raisin Bran every morning. The same drive to work. The same greeting to the guard, same conversations with the same coworkers. Same words sent. Same words received.

When we have the Aha moment on the elevator to the 23rd floor next to the woman immersed in her screen, we should take note. Write down the insight. Listen to it. But don’t stop there; consider making a habit of watching for the moments of supreme attention that stop you dead in your tracks with wonder. These are the very pivot points we shoot past without even taking in the scene. And that’s too bad, because we miss an opportunity to learn something about ourselves, our culture and our future.

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  1. […] around you (though it’s still a bit fuzzy how anyone understands anything). You anticipate being stopped dead in your tracks with realization or wonder, right in the middle of a […]


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