As cliche as this may sound, I am the kind of person that regularly asks myself “what are we doing here?” And by that worn out question I imply the obvious… why are humans… here? Is there a reason? If so where can I, Crosby Damron, find it? This uninvited question has sat quite annoyingly at the base of all of my anxieties since I was around six. I was given an answer when I was young: “We are here to glorify God”… but that didn’t assuage my fears.
As I matured and sought comfort among seemingly likeminded people, I encountered a new answer. These people told me that humans are not here for any sacred reason, that we are a biological accident, and that ultimately all intelligent people accept this. I was shocked to find however, that still… I wasn’t satisfied. I tend to find that when my mind encounters truth, relative as that may be, it feels at rest. I now use this resting sensation as some kind of truth radar: If I feel peace, my mind’s truth must be near. Here, then, is the closest I have come.. the “purpose of life” in which I feel most at home and most honest: we are here to build and experience relationships. Life altering. This purpose, though, is not a passive means to float through life unfettered. The conscious cultivation of relationships is a MASSIVE responsibility. Hence I introduce to the world my new goal: conversation sensitivity.
My junior year of high school I was at friday night football game, reveling in nostalgia I wholeheartedly celebrated. This particular game took place at a wealthy Catholic school on the opposite side of town. Sitting amongst my classmates and strangers, my life felt remarkably movie-like.. shallow and easy… a fantasy I often longed for. Just in my periphery, though, I noticed erratic movement, a transient women walking frantically in front of the bleachers. Intensely emaciated and smoking a cigarette, the heavily made up woman mumbled to herself as she made her way erratically in front of the crowd. Not surprisingly, the people around me began to chat quite uninhibitedly about the spectacle. “What is she doing here?” “Smoking on a high school campus?” The woman’s appearance, her movements, her indecipherable chattering… nothing was off limits from the small talk of strangers. It was then that I looked down at the cheerleaders and caught the eye of my panicked best friend. This woman was her estranged mother and she was terrified. In this moment I powerfully realized the true weight of our conversations. Many of the people I heard taking about my friend’s mother were close friends of her daughter, entirely unaware of the heartbreaking connection, and only an earshot away from making an uncomfortable situation devastating. I am entirely aware of how many times I have perhaps been the talker in similarly heavy situations, loving the sound of my own voice more than I actively love the humans around me.
Our words are so very powerful. They can and do unavoidably change the lives of those around us as well as ultimately the entire world we live in. I feel it is so important then, that we consciously practice using our words to invite more humanity into our individual lives.
For me, this starts with trying tirelessly to adopt the belief that.. chances are… the next person I meet’s life probably looks nothing like mine. He or she probably grew up in a different neighborhood, with different family structure, different religious teachings, different political beliefs, different taste in music, different social boundaries, a different human experience. Under this assumption.. it becomes intensely important to avoid killing a potential relationship before it starts with ostracizing phrases. With every utterance of:
“I would never…”
“I don’t understand people who…”
“I am against…”
I simply increase the possibility of convincing a potential friend that I am incapable of accepting him or her, informing them passively of what they cannot confess to me.
The next lesson I am learning in conversation sensitivity is one of diction. In literature, diction implies the specific choice of words by an author to evoke a certain tone. Day to day life can show our word choice informing strangers of our “tone” dangerously accurately. In potentially controversial conversations our word choice is capable of inadvertently informing others that there is no need for discussion. I truly value the opinions of others too highly to allow myself to (however accidentally) dismiss a conversation before it begins. Time with other humans is simply too sacred. Imagine, yourself discussing the ethics of abortion with a very new acquaintance. In your first sentence, an immediate statement of opinion, you use the word “murder”. It would be alarmingly clear to your acquaintance exactly how you felt about abortion, after the utterance of one word, and the conversation has either escalated to an argument or has ended. A tragic loss of a potential meaningful conversation that could have exposed light on the intricacies of life. Similarly, racial, ethnic, and sexual slurs used casually, jokingly among a group of familiar faces run the risk of hitting someone sharply, isolating a newcomer inevitably. Is it worth it?
In my day to day life, I am striving to practice conversation sensitivity in ways that are challenging for me. Time in conversation spent laughing, drinking coffee under the stars, crying, and discovering the beauty of being human alongside all kinds of people… convinces me that holding onto each other is worth putting in a bit more effort.
We owe it to each other.