Oberlin Blogs

Talk That Talk To Me

April 8, 2014

Alexandria Cunningham ’16

The beautiful thing about my majors outside of the content, professors and my fellow majors is that I have truly learned the importance of quality conversations. My professors have demonstrated for me what a well facilitated dialogue looks like and I, in turn, have been spoiled and love sharing that model with others. I have always been one for good conversation--one where there is an interesting topic, an appreciation of difference, varied opinion and respect for folks bringing their experiences with them, all make for a good verbal exchange.

Lately, what I have noticed is that I appreciate my discussions to be well facilitated, meaning, there is a balance in the exchange of ideas among participants. I like my conversations to have structure and intention. I want folks to be engaged and present in the moment. I love it when people are open to sharing and connecting their experiences and knowledge. I also like for people to enjoy the time we exchange insight together and bring their personality to it as well. Most important for me, though, is I need people to listen to attune to what is being said and not just to respond. Simply put, there is a way to talk that talk to me and get the most out of a dialogue. So, let's talk about... well, talking.

The Salt Advice and Conversational Assumptions
"A person isn't who they are during the last conversation you had with them--they're who they've been throughout your whole relationship." ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Many times I have been in spaces on campus (and in "regular" life too) where something gets said and it is deemed problematic. All evaluations of wrongness of the statement aside, whoever said it often gets written off as problematic and controversial. What rarely carries over, though, is the context around what that person said or what experiences caused them to have the type of purview that they now have. Or, keep it real, the audience you voice yourself to does not always know you, so they may be shocked when you break one of their assumptions of you. I have seen how both in the classroom and outside of it, context is ignored as being everything--I personally do not believe that anything said or done can be divorced from its context but people will do it all day long. My point? Yes, be critical when something is said that is unclear or does not sit well with you, but give the other person the space to own their experience and share with you why they have come to believe what they believe. It might clue you into a bigger discovery about them, or maybe you just conclude that they are fantastic at spinning webs of deceit. Either way, it goes take what people say with a "grain of salt," address what concerns you, give them room to provide you with insight and keep it moving.

Silence is Golden and Duct Tape Is Silver
"Silence is one of the great arts of conversation." ~Marcus Tullius Cicero

I did not realize how beautiful and effective a tool silence can be until I entered college. Usually, I am rather quick to let people know what it is and how it is going to be, and then I discovered that this strategy does not work on everybody. Some people respond really well to silence--it makes them uncomfortable and in their discomfort they may ponder the philosophical meaning of life or engage with the situation and figure out why the silence was necessary in the first place. At least in the ways that I have seen it play out in the classroom, silence gives people the space to take stock of their environment and articulate themselves better. It is almost like coming into oneself allows for a more clarified vision and understanding of the world in front of you. Even in heated debate, silence gives you a minute to come up out of the thrill of what is going to happen next and actually think. There are SO many wonderful ways to use silence to shape conversation rather than stop it or make it unproductive. It is a matter of testing it out--if being a Posse Scholar has taught me anything in life it is that no question has to be answered right away, nor does every moment have to be filled with a voice. So, just like the movies tell you (or they used to back in the day), silence is [can be] golden.

The Theatrics of Conversation: Best Practices
"A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That's why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet." ~Truman Capote

I would like to keep this one short and leave it up to interpretation while I emphasize the very first part--a conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. It is imperative that if you invite someone else to exchange ideas, information and feelings with you, you give them the space to participate fully. Walls are perfect for delivering monologues to, they do not talk back. Find a balance between your exchange of ideas with the other person and cherish that transmission of understanding. Let folks participate in the ways that they can and your conversation will be the better for it. Monologues have their place, but it is not in conversation with somebody else.

The Real Spice of Life--Seasoning Dialogue
"I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation." ~George Bernard Shaw

Honest moment: I self quote. A lot. One of the many things I love about quotes is that as life gems they successfully reflect some kind of insight about how to get on in life from a fresh perspective. When I am in class, I like to sprinkle in the home-spun wisdom I get from my family, friends and folks who opened my eyes to new things. 'Quotables' become integral parts of my conversations since they are presented in ways that come back and echo my experiences. Proverbs, turns-of-phrases and adages make me really happy since they make conversations interesting, funny and worthwhile. I cannot even count the number of times that I self-quote or craft signature phrases that my close friends acknowledge as my own life gems. Even song lyrics come in handy, I actually song reference on a daily basis because it really does add all the spice to my conversations. You never know what the song of the day might be! All in all, the extent to which I draw on the wisdom of my circle is insane because we all have our own unique wisdom, and the breadth of it, I feel, should be shared. So consider my conversations spicy.

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