conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Archive for the ‘Ancient Text’ Category

DBT: When Does Talk Become Therapy? (Shop Talk #9)

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Can a conversation save your life?

I recently met a therapist who practices dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).  She and her team work with clients who may struggle with a number of issues including borderline personality disorders and thoughts of suicide, among other things. As we talked it seemed to me that her practice was very much focused on, well, talking. Her practice of therapeutic talk has a pretty good track record of helping people find ways through each scary personal wilderness.

In Doing Dialectical Behavior Therapy: A Practical Guide (NY: The Guilford Press, 2012), Kelly Koerner describes some pieces of how this therapy works:

Emotion dysregulation is the inability, despite one’s best efforts, to change or regulate emotional cues, experiences, actions, verbal responses, and/or nonverbal expression under normative conditions.

Gaining control is a matter of recognizing biologically-based contributing characteristics, focused regular therapeutic conversations, skills training, self-monitoring and a host of other strategies and tactics.

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As a non-therapist outsider, I am simply curious as to how far conversation can go to help people become well again. And I am very curious as to what a therapeutic conversation looks like. While we may or may not suffer the particular illnesses that Koerner notes, I am reasonably certain anyone reading this can testify to the clarifying power of a conversation with a good friend and the long-term impact conversations have on keeping us…sane.

In ListenTalk: Is conversation an Act of God? I try to show what happens in our simple and ordinary conversations. I found a few philosophers to talk with some ancient texts (pre-order ListenTalk here), and what they ended up saying together continues to surprise me. It’s a book that will be interesting to people of faith, but the big idea is that since people matter, our talk together matters. And more than that, we actually come alive in tiny ways when in conversation.

I’ve begun tracing the different paths where conversation is truly an engine for some particular outcome. I’ve noted the product place of conversation in many business settings. I’ve wondered about the role of conversation in connecting any/all of us to God. And now here is another example of using the ordinary tool of talk to uncover and possibly address deep-seated need.

Talk. It’s a marvel.

Other Shop Talks you may find interesting:

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Decentered. As in “not the crux of all things.”

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A place for everything and everything in its place

I’ve put a recurring early-morning block on my calendar titled “Decenter.” The block or early morning quiet and focus has actually been on my calendar for decades, but I’ve recently retitled it based on a cue from Merold Westphal, a philosopher who teaches at Fordham University.

Westphal, writing in The Phenomenology of Prayer (NY: Fordham University Press, 2005), introduces prayer as a “decentering” activity. As a conversation, prayer takes me out of the center of my universe. Like the prayers of the old poet-king or the prayers of the inveterate letter-writer, these are conversations that recognize some other as the center of everything. Those two saw God as the center—I’m with them on that.

There is mystery beyond our convenient placeholders.

There is mystery beyond our convenient placeholders.

Of course, “de-centering” is not the way we could describe many of the prayers we pray. We send up endless lists to some imagined order-taking god, with caveats about when (“Now works for me. How about now?”) and where and how. And especially how much. But listen to Westphal:

…prayer is a deep, quite possibly the deepest decentering of the self, deep enough to begin dismantling or, if you like, deconstructing that burning preoccupation with myself. (Prayer as the Posture of the Decentered Self, 18)

Again and again I find myself at the center of all existence. Maybe you do too. We’re sorta set up for that, given eyes and ears that operate from a central pivot, constantly swiveling about to take in all we possibly can.

It seems natural enough to think everything revolves around us.

The truth is we need help to back away from this “burning preoccupation.”

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Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

I completely disagree. Are we still friends?

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How a small group helps you listen better

Say you are in a small group. Maybe you are part of a knitting guild. Maybe a book club. Maybe you meet every two weeks to study ancient texts together.

Your group comes together for some specific purpose, but along the way you make friends with these people. Sometimes these people agree with your opinion. Sometimes they disagree. But you listen to them anyway—even when you disagree. They listen/you listen because of friendship.

Tell me: how do you see it?

Tell me: how do you see it?

A few days back I wrote about a group we are part of where membership is shrinking. The take-away was that it only takes one or two people to have a conversation that is stimulating and even eye-opening, and possibly life-changing (if only incrementally). This has to do with the mechanism of hearing opinions and insights that are different from mine and stopping to consider them—because of friendship. Hearing from others is a beginning step away from the echo chambers we increasingly build for ourselves with media that says only what we want to hear.

Making friends who think and believe differently seems like a good idea. And engaging them in conversation about stuff that matters—that seems like a really good idea.

I wish we had a will to do more of that.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

What Good Is a Group?

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The occasional spark. The intentional fire.

I’ve been wondering this lately: what good is a group?

Mrs. Kirkistan and I lead a small group that regularly meets together to read ancient texts. At the moment we’re slowly going through Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. It’s riveting stuff.

There comes a time in the life of every small group where people start to bow out. Life gets in the way. Work, sickness, commitments and gradually the small group is, well, really small. Only a few show.Group-04172015

Even so—with only one or two showing up—some magical spark can happen in the course of an ordinary conversation.  We talked about the pointed words Jesus had to say about lust and adultery—old terms we don’t hear much in our culture—experiences so common they seem to be just expected parts of everyday life. In the course of hashing through those words, we talked about seeing people as objects. And suddenly I was making connections with Levinas and Buber and realizing I am also in need of reforming bad thought habits.

These conversational sparks happen at work too. Yesterday I was lamenting to myself the ways large corporations dampen the enthusiasm of otherwise bright, motivated people. In the middle of that thought a client returned a call that we had cut short the day before. He had been thinking through our conversation and had five or six things to add. This client—from a very large corporation—had found a way to take personal ownership of the process and our discussion had a sort of breathless excitement to it.

This is rare.

And cool.

Our seemingly ordinary conversation had unearthed some live wire. And a group of us were doing our best to act on it.

So—all this to say that groups can do things individuals cannot. And sometimes a group conversation can create something brand new.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Martin Buber, Jesus and Kim Kardashian walk into a bar

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The Sermon on the Stool

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“I can’t be your love object, Marty,” said Kardashian.

“How could you be my object?” said Buber. “As far as I know, we’re still all “I-Thou.” Though I will say your Instagram screams “I-it.”

“That’s the spirit, Marty,” said Jesus. “Way to marshal your intent.”

“Bartender—give me a Jägermeister.”

[The End]

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

God-Talk and Other BS

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Do Communication and Spirituality Connect?

I say “Yes.”

And I say it manifests in the ordinary conversations of everyday life.

Let me prove it: deep down in your brain-pan, where you instantly recoil from people who snap at you; back down there where your inner child says snarky, politically incorrect, frankly obscene, stuff that your adult, outer-self edits and translates to “Hmm. I see….”

Deep down there in the hidden recesses—that’s part of the connection.

Your immediate responses to the stuff of everyday life can tip you off that things are not right—deep down in the soul. Yes—I’m talking about weird stuff. But you have an inner life, right? A place where no one visits but you.

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If that inner place is full of doubt, while your outer self—the adult self in tie and loafers, who edits and translates the inner child’s voice so the rest of the world remains unaware what a low-life that kid is—if that outer self proclaims stable faith in God and corporation and the upright institutions (ha ha) that surround us—that’s where the cognitive dissonance starts. That’s the precise locus of hypocrisy.

Mind you: I’m big on doubt. Questions are good. Questioning institutions and the quick answers to life’s hard questions—I’m all for that. Talking unbelief to God makes perfect sense to me (Just read Job, my patron saint of doubt honestly-processed).

It’s the saying one thing while believing another I’m not for. It is that very place where God-talk becomes BS. And I believe most of us have sixth-sense/BS detector that goes off when outer words don’t match inner life—even if we cannot put our finger on exactly why. I am most certainly talking to myself here as well.

We need to process our bouts of cognitive dissonance together to keep our God-talk from becoming BS—rudderless words without the ballast of belief and action a life-lived.

If you don’t have a friend to be honest with, find one.

This is important.

Today is Good Friday—a day when the Christian Church celebrates (is that even the right word?) Jesus’ death. Three days later we celebrate that this dead guy is dead no longer.

I appreciate this time of year for processing doubts together with others. Quite often we come away rejoicing. And somehow more whole.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

By the way: I’ve written ListenTalk: Is Conversation an Act of God? to explore this connection. Pre-order here.

Someone Died and Everything is Different

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Times Change Us.

A gentleman acquaintance—someone I barely knew.

Mrs. Kirkistan and I were in a meeting with him not two weeks ago, and now he is absent. It’s a shock—but our shock is minor compared to that of the grieving widow and children. They have our sympathies and prayers. I cannot imagine the shift in outlook this change has wrought for them.

Even for me, who did not know him, there is a clear hole where he once existed. A big nothing–a memory–where, moments ago, a person stood.

And so. Mourning.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

–Jesus the Christ

We usually want to stick those holy old, churchy words in a pew to visit on Sunday or Easter. But today, even from the distance where I stand, they hold a glimmer.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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