The Art of Conversation

This week’s Torah portion is Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah. It’s an interesting title for a chapter that isn’t — on the surface — about her life at all.

In fact, this week we learn that Sarah died. We’re not told how, but the presumption is that she literally had a heart attack upon learning that Abraham had set out to sacrifice their son, Isaac. The shock of God’s request, Abraham’s unquestioning acquiescence, and the boy’s victimization were too much to bear. God had promised Sarah a late-in-life baby, so why would God then want to take that child away? Abraham had negotiated with God to save the lives of the people of Sodom and Gemorrah, so why didn’t he argue for his own son’s life? And why didn’t the boy — who actually was a young man — fight back? I believe Sarah’s profound disappointment and disillusionment did her in. She didn’t understand and couldn’t ask “why?”.

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On a daily basis, I find myself in conversations. MANY conversations. In person, over the phone, on a videoconference, and via email. Conversations in which many things are said. Conversations in which many things are NOT said. Conversations that may include history…assumptions…preconceived ideas…feelings and/or emotions…opinions…and many different perceptions. To me, what’s interesting and frustrating is that, often times, there’s a disconnect between what’s going on in one’s heart or head and what does or doesn’t come out of one’s mouth. Humans are not mind-readers.

With babies, we play the game  of “show and tell.” We show them the world around us. We teach them about and the names of objects. We teach them how to say words and what they mean. But do we children how to have a proper conversation with someone?

What is speaking with someone actually about?

Even as adults, very few of us are in professions or have the training on how to have a proper conversation with someone. Ironically, a TED Talk with Celeste Headlee, a writer and radio host, came my way this week. In it, she offered “10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation.” I eagerly watched the video and was a bit disappointed. Her points are basic. Obvious. Total common sense. There were no “silver bullets.” But, she hit home.

With Thanksgiving coming, as we gather with family and friends, let’s plan for the conversations we’ll have. Let’s be present. Let’s go with the flow. Let’s teach and model for our children — and ourselves — how to have real, constructive, and meaningful conversations.