Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Lost Art of Conversation

I was reading Anna Karenina the other day, and came across a chapter where a character invites guests over for dinner. Offhand, that sounds like nothing special, but it was described so intentionally, that I couldn't get over it.

The dinner was what could almost be considered a party. It was 8 individuals or so, who weren't part of the same circle of friends. They weren't all one chummy group. Some were related. Some were acquainted. Some were political rivals. However, the host arranged it all so that the dynamic characteristics of each of his guests would be on display. He intentionally invited certain people to introduce them, because he knew they would get along greatly.

Then, during the party, he would mingle between guests, bringing up topics he knew they would find interesting. He encouraged conversation. He knew how to avoid touchy subjects. It was incredible.

In our day, things like this just don't happen. In a sermon by John MacArthur that I was listening to yesterday, he was talking about how people are becoming more and more individualized, and don't see values in relationship. We don't see dependence on others as a good thing. We like to be autonomous. We take pride in the fact that we can get along on our own, without help from family or friends. Now, I'm not saying you should be a burden on someone, or that working to provide for yourself is wrong. Not at all. My point is that we lack that link that generations before us found vital.

If you were to invite eight people over for dinner, who would it be? They couldn't be of the same group- your basketball team, your Bible study. Just eight people who you think could thrive off of each others experiences and conversation. I don't think I know eight people's personalities well enough to know what sort of things they would have in common with my other friends. It's quite sad.

Another experience I had recently was a stop I had on the way back from a family vacation. We spent two nights at my Aunt and Uncle's house in southern Alberta. I have always loved talking to my aunt, and this time, I wanted to figure out why. Why is it I feel so comfortable with this woman who I really only see twice a year at the most?

She makes you feel she's listening. She asks intentional questions. She cares about what your goals and dreams are. She never questions "how can you afford to do that?" or "is that really the best use of time?". She's genuinely excited about your life, and what you're excited about. She knows how to create these sorts of conversations where you can really meet someone. I don't feel I know her quite as well as she knows me, but I feel that's my fault. I haven't been intentional about asking. I haven't developed that skill.

That's something I really want to work on. People usually love to share themselves, but we're too busy trying to get our point across that we miss the experiences they're trying to share with us.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Lessons from Emma

I have had a wonderful time in Texas this summer. I arrived at the beginning of June, and unfortunately will be off next Wednesday, but there have been some great memories, wonderful relationships created, and many things to look forward to next year.

One of the things I have done while down here was read Emma, by Jane Austen. My reading has been a little scattered recently, with multiple books progressing slowly, and I have to admit,Emma took me a little bit of reading to get into it. She is just so purely annoying! Emma Woodhouse is the kind of snobbish person I want little to do with in ordinary life. (Which has caused me to spend a little time evaluating myself...) However, something that I admire about her is she takes criticism from those she respects and grows from it.

At the beginning she is very selfishly motivated in all her daily activities, even in charity. She doesn't assist others out of love, but out of how it makes her appear and expectations those around her have. She takes Harriet in because she feels she, with her superior position, can introduce Harriet to society (ironically, Emma takes it as an insult when Mrs. Elton offers to do the same thing for her). Honestly, Harriet was much more tolerable and respectfully humble before Emma got to her.

At one point, she makes some painful remarks to Miss Bates. Mr. Knightly, her brother-in-law who she has known since her youth, tells her, bluntly though respectfully, she is in the wrong. Immediately Emma recognizes and attempts to repent by heart-fully attending to the Bateses. It's a change that is apparent to only the reader because nothing changes outwardly. She still visits frequently, as always, but her inward thoughts, her private notations and observations, change greatly.

It's something that I know I need to work on myself. It's so easy to get wrapped up in doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, and though it's not observable to others, it eventually becomes noticeable in attitude or work ethic. Even today, I found how I take criticism from certain people as a personal attack, rather than an opportunity to grow and develop better habits- something I can work on continually.