conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Archive for the ‘Hard Conversations’ Category

What we mean when we say “PC”

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Conversations will sometimes offend

“We’re all so PC today.”

When I hear this I wonder what the speaker means:

  • Does she mean we work so hard to not offend each other that what we say is meaningless?
  • Or does he mean he wants to get back to days of privilege (white, male, boss, pastor/priest, authority—name your privilege), back to when a part of our daily lexicon meant disparaging others deemed “less” because they did not line up with us?


If political correctness impinges on our ability to speak freely, that is not good. We must find ways to speak our thoughts—even if it means threading our words through verbal and perceived obstructions and pitfalls. Even if it means offending. But that’s the same with any relationship. Our conversations aim toward pulling others in more than pushing others away (Otherwise why talk at all? Just walk away.), so we take care speak to where our conversation partner is coming from. The end game of speaking our thoughts to each other is greater freedom, better articulation, and deepening friendships. Comedy sometimes makes that leap quickly by abruptly articulating a hidden thought. Those hidden thoughts, when exposed to air, can carry great meaning.

If there is one positive to come from the mouth of the patent-medicine salesman Trump, it is recognition that privilege exists in our nation and now we simply have to talk about it as a nation.

But if political correctness makes us long for a return to days of privilege where we verbally bully anyone perceived as different, then we must work against that. Others are to be understood, not hated. If political correctness helps us begin to see the inherent blindness of our particular place of privilege—let’s embrace that and learn.

We are at our best when connecting with each other.

We are at our worst when building walls.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

When Hoax-Busters Give Up

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And so we descend into irrationality

Our Bright Shining Future

Our Bright Shining Future

The end of the Washington Post’s “What was Fake” column had the writer quoting academic Walter Quattrociocchi, head of the Laboratory of Computational Social Science at IMT Lucca in Italy:

Essentially, he explained, institutional distrust is so high right now, and cognitive bias so strong always, that the people who fall for hoax news stories are frequently only interested in consuming information that conforms with their views — even when it’s demonstrably fake.

The entire last article is worth reading: What was fake on the Internet this week: Why this is the final column.

To sum up this moment: we read what agrees with our viewpoint, we talk with people in our tribe who agree with us, we label those who disagree with us and we generally see facts as “facts.”

This moment does not represent the future I hoped for.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

What did Jesus say at the Trump Rally?

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Written by kirkistan

December 8, 2015 at 8:56 am

Giving Voice to Change

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Check my guest post on the MedAxiom blog


[Click to read]

Third in a series.

Written by kirkistan

August 7, 2015 at 10:24 am

Q: My friend has lost all desire and curiosity.

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What can I say to bring him to life again?–Lazarus’s friend

Dear conversation is an engine

My friend has lost all desire and curiosity. What can I say to bring him to life again?

–Lazarus’s friend


Dear Lazarus’ Friend:

Your friend may be depressed. Does he look at his smartphone a lot—that could be a sign. Tell your friend to hie unto a physician for a thorough physical–because it could be physical. It could require a counselor or mental health professional.

But from a friend’s perspective, find ways to be present. Take your friend out for coffee and get him to spill the beans: what’s going on? Friendship is about talking all the way through your friend’s understanding of life just now. Touch on what he fears and what he hopes. Touch on what next steps he might. This will take time—maybe many cups of coffee over a long time. Or take a long walk together–do something that takes the pressure off talking.

Being present with your friend may look like conversation. Or it may sound like silence. But being there, whether or not words show up, that is the first point.

Start there. Because showing up may be just the glimmer your friend needs.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Have That [fearful, painful, embarrassing] Conversation

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It’s how humans move forward

We find all sorts of ways to not say something important.

I do this all the time: there are things I need to say to several people in my life—but I hold back, fearful of how my words might be received, questioning where the conversation will lead. Am I able to follow where this potential conversation might go? Do I even have the emotional capacity to stick with that conversation? Will I fall into weeping or fly into a rage?

I’m not talking about drive-by conversations that release a damning monologue and then run away. I’m talking about those sustained conversations with people we are close to, conversations begun with a desire to say and hear. True dialogue about something important—where our thoughts are modified by someone else’s—and something new arises.


Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (Metropolitan Books, 2014) has reminded me of the need to get very specific when talking about end of life stuff—though the entire topic is crazy difficult. One simply does not know how much time anyone has left.

But it is not just death and life stuff that wants a conversation. There is life-direction stuff, talk about fears and hopes and dreams. Talk about how we understand something: what we think of faith now compared to what we thought 30 years ago.

Does that sound like a heavy conversation? It sure could be. But, in fact, we release bits and pieces of this stuff all the time. In conversation with those close to us we always find ourselves talking about these things. But sometimes those conversations need to be ramped up.

A couple years ago I wrote that it is better to have the conversation than not. More and more I think that is true. When we bring up a topic with a friend or family member or colleague, great things can happen. We can find new resolve, or new intimacy. Sometimes the talk conjures raw emotion. But on the other side is a movement forward.

What do you need to say today—and to whom?


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

July 14, 2015 at 9:13 am

A Confederacy of Onces

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What could a national conversation look like?

Once upon a time mom and dad and kids gathered in the evening in front of the television to be entertained. This family, sitting patiently and expectantly, had three channels to choose from. Plus the boring public broadcast channel. Back when everyone watched the same variety show or mini-series or disruptive news special, national conversations occurred. Broadcasts that enraged or engaged would spur citizens to remark to each other. And since everyone watched the same channels, national conversations were born. So we talked about Selma or Vietnam or the moon landing or the most recent episode of “Roots.” Sometimes, not often, we talked about what was happening in Washington.

Before TV, radio did the same. Before that newspapers. Media has a way of spurring national conversations, though the attention lasts only so long, because the job of media is to immediately bring the next new thing. Day after day. That’s their revenue stream and business model.


When consolidated media ran the news business, it seemed to have more of a black and white/good or bad characteristic. With good guys and bad guys, a much better story emerged. And better stories sell more newspapers or generate better Nielsen ratings.

Social media removes some power from the established media. By hearing from different voices, context can be provided. Or not: Sometimes flame-throwing trolls dominate our inbox, just like on Fox News. The smart ones among us find ways to hear different voices, so we can see different ways to connect the dots. The rest of us relish getting riled with righteous rage by the people in our tribe who serve that function.

Lately for me and others, social media has connected dots and has turned a series of media one-offs into a bona-fide “thing.” Many find themselves paying attention and then cannot help but remark. Topics like the statistics around black deaths with police. It was blogs and tweets that explored nuance and connected the series of “onces” to show there is more—much more—than just a few one-offs. It was social media that kept the topic on the radar, not the established media.

Kerry Miller, on a recent The Daily Circuit, said she doesn’t like to use “national conversation” because it never happens. That is (I think she meant), national conversations never materialize. But I would argue that more and more often people are adding up the “one-offs” and putting them together in ways journalists and authorities had not predicted. It blindsided me that the Confederate flag flying over the South Carolina capital would prove a lightning rod. Gay marriage has taken the nation by storm right up to the point where it became the law of the land. And it was the call for statistics to be reported about deaths occurring in police custody. All of these have been explored by social media in detail.

All of this has proven fodder for national conversations. That is, new topics that we may never have dreamed we’d find ourselves talking about are now falling from our lips at the coffee bar or on the drive to work. And here is perhaps where today’s national conversation differs from those conversations mediated only by established media. Social media allows for nuance. It need not be black and white because we’re not selling newspapers here (some are, of course). But the nuanced voices are helping us talk without forcing one way or the other.

I see these conversations developing every day. And they move from online to offline to online again. I also see smart journalists from established media finding ways to bring in nuance at just the right time.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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