Real conversation once graced the societal landscape of America. It has become a relic held onto by a few people who know the great value of real conversation. For me, it is the experience where people exchange ideas, provide information or seek to convince others of an issue position on which they disagree. It can even occur when talking about topics of no importance. What makes real conversation is that it is conducted with civility, thought and respect on the part of all participants.
We have come to a time in America when real conversation hardly ever shows its head. Look around. Turn on a television or radio and see the reports of protests and confrontations resulting from conditions that should be addressed through real conversation.
Before working on this column, I was watching Peter Strzok testifying in a joint hearing before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees. Strzok is the FBI agent who exchanged texts with Lisa Page, an FBI attorney, that spoke harshly of then-presidential-candidate Trump and his supporters. Because both of them were involved with the Hillary Clinton and Russia collusion investigations, there is some concern that their actions in those investigations might have resulted from bias against Trump, the candidate.
In my estimation, the hearing was a horror show that did absolutely nothing by way of getting to the truth. There was pure partisanship, anger, grandstanding by committee members, arguments and so on. All of the elements were present that make real conversation impossible.
The “attack mode” of verbal exchange is pervasive. This is especially true in this age where many Americans apparently believe any grievance justifies a protest, even when doing so invades and disrespects the space of others. Consider what is happening to the president and to individuals who work in his administration. The following summaries of incidents are recorded in an article by William Cummings titled “The list of Trump White House officials who have been hassled over administration policy.”
The article states:
• “From spokeswoman Sarah Sanders’ expulsion from the Red Hen restaurant to a Senate intern shouting the “f-word” at the president, a number of Trump administration officials have been disrespected or hassled by political opponents in recent days.
• Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., urged activists to continue hounding Trump Cabinet members wherever and whenever they find them.
• Demonstrators converged on the home of White House adviser Stephen Miller in downtown Washington Monday to denounce Miller’s role as one of the architects of the administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy.
• The Department of Homeland Security secretary was confronted with chants of ‘Shame!’ as she tried to dine at an upscale Mexican restaurant in Washington amid the uproar over the administration’s policy of separating migrant families accused of illegally crossing the southern border.
• Pence, who has never really been considered an ally of the LBGTQ community, was greeted by a display of rainbow flags by many of his new neighbors when he first moved to Washington as the vice president elect.
• The president’s adviser and eldest daughter was called a ‘feckless (expletive)’ by comedian Samantha Bee during a monologue on Bee’s TBS show ‘Full Frontal’ about the separation of migrant families.”
The quotes above refer to actions against Republicans. In an ongoing attempt to be balanced in my thinking and writing, I googled “conservative verbal attacks on liberals.” What came up were more articles talking about liberal attacks on conservatives. The resulting picture is one where it appears that most verbal attacks, and similar actions, are directed toward conservatives. However, the lack of real conversation is fed by all sides and by people of various affiliations and ideologies.
Maybe part of our reason for discarding real conversation is due to our having lost sight of how it looks and of the tremendous positive impact that is possible from it.
A sermon I heard in February 2018 has stuck with me because what was presented reminded me of the powerful possibilities in real conversation. The preacher was Rev. Stephanie Bohannon. Until June 2018, she was the associate pastor at First Baptist Church (Anderson Street) in Fayetteville. The sermon title was “Grace is Found at the Well.” The Scripture basis is John 4:4-26, 39. This is the account of Jesus, in Samaria, talking with a woman at Jacob’s well.
Much of what Bohannon shared from this account can help us reclaim real conversation. Jesus is resting beside this well in Samaria. Being Jewish, it was unexpected that he would be in Samaria, because Jews did not associate with Samaritans. Productive conversation sometimes requires that we go to places and engage in circumstances that might be uncomfortable.
A Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water. Jesus asks her to draw a drink for him. She expresses surprise that a Jew would ask a Samaritan for water. This is where Jesus says, in verse 10, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water” (HCSB).
In response, the woman wants to know how he would draw water, given that Jesus does not have a bucket. Her question not only reflects thought, but shows her willingness to respectfully probe this comment by Jesus. Notice the respectful tone of this exchange. This condition of thoughtfulness, reasonable questioning and respectful tone are almost always absent from conversations addressing difficult issues of our time. These elements are essential to real conversation.
Then Jesus tells the woman to call her husband. She responds that she has no husband. Jesus says (verse 17), “You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband. For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.’” Some contend that Jesus was condemning the woman’s relationship. However, another likely explanation is that he was establishing his position in the thinking of this woman. Apparently, when Jesus, without knowing her, spoke accurately to the woman’s marital situation, she was able to recognize something special in him. She sees him as a prophet and goes on to question Jesus regarding places of worship. Real conversation requires conducting oneself in a fashion that invites respect and the expectation of productive discourse.
Verses 28-30 give the result of this real conversation: “Then the woman left her water jar, went into town and told the men, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?’ They left the town and made their way to him.” This was the very positive result of real conversation.
Bohannon closed by saying that, despite her story, Jesus offered that woman grace, love and acceptance. Even when we disagree, if we can, in our conversations, employ the elements exhibited by Jesus and this woman, while adding grace, love and acceptance, amazing results are possible.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash