When Polite Conversation Turns Graphic

Is this our thing now? Skipping the chit-chat and going straight for the jugular?

This thing where folks talk at me, not with me. Me no likey.

Sometimes it’s highly-debated politics. Sometimes it’s preference, opinion or perspective. Sometimes it starts with a “can you believe this…?” Sometimes it’s a rabbit trail.

But what it’s not…is conversation.

I volunteer alongside a woman who seems to have expertise in every area on which she speaks.

She must have spent her life multi-careering as a nurse, a librarian, an educator, a historian, a lawyer, a retailer, a banker and a nutritionist. She’s convinced she’s the guru. This, she makes clear.

This time, we were stacking copies of Dog Man and Diary of a Wimpy Kid when she began griping about graphic novels. How they’d taken over the book fair.

And kids’ lives.

Warning how they won’t be able to read To Kill A Mockingbird when they get to high school because they were reading Captain Underpants in Third Grade. It’s a slippery slope, people.

She might be right.

But, I’m not sure.

Let me be clear: I do not currently have an apologetic on the matter. Which puts me in a prickly spot.

She followed me around, waiting for my resounding “Yes! Sign me up! Ban these books! Burn them all!” I silently moved from table to table, pretending to be preoccupied with the task.

She never got it. She just kept talking.

She didn’t engage me. She just whined at me. Not with. At.

She assumed. Assumed I cared. Assumed I agreed. Assumed she knew more. Assumed I was unattached. Assumed I would be convinced if she just.kept.talking.

Assuming meant not asking.

She didn’t ask if I had a child who hates reading.
She didn’t ask if I would do anything to find a book he would bury his nose in.
She didn’t ask if I was willing to take graphic novels over nothing.
She didn’t ask if having a different option was helping improve his confidence and interest.
She didn’t ask if I knew of educators who recommended the blasted things.
She didn’t ask if I’d just purchased a few of those bad boys to stick away as incentives and rewards.
She didn’t ask what kinds of books I liked.
She didn’t observe my discomfort in the conversation.
In fact, she didn’t know a single thing about me.

She just talked. And talked. And talked.

Now, I’m usually rather appeasing in conversation. But, when someone is just preaching at me and not curious about my story, my perspective, my wonderings, I don’t mind passive-aggressively silencing-up. (Pushing back just escalates these things. Yet, nodding and yessing, only encourages it.)

So, I just waited. Waited for the monologue to cease. Waited for her to go away.

It makes me think about my own tendencies.

  • What assumptions do I make about others’ perspectives and their stories?
  • What topics do I tackle, with whom, when and where?
  • Am I just spitting out my message or am I truly engaging someone in meaningful discussion?
  • Do I care what they think or am I just speaking to be heard?
  • Do I believe I could learn from them or am I locked on my own conclusions?
  • Am I communicating that their story and voice are valuable or rolling right over them?
  • Do I ask curious questions when I notice emotion or reaction in another? Do I notice?
  • Do I feel the need to win others over to my point of view or am I trying to connect?

I’ve been well-trained in bringing the message of Jesus to people. Doesn’t mean I do it well. But, I have, indeed, been well-trained. I believe Jesus can, will and does change peoples’ lives. He has changed mine. It’s a reality I want to share with anyone and everyone.

I could blare it from the rooftop or force it down their throats, but it wouldn’t make a lick of difference.

Folks don’t respond to one-sided presentations.

People need to connect, to be heard and understood, to work through their personal obstacles, to be cared for and known. I can give an ear-full and rest assured that I “got the message out there.” But, if I want someone to truly consider where I’m coming from, I need to first learn where they are coming from. I need to genuinely care. I need to be authentically curious.

Our stories matter. Our hangups matter. Our pain matters. Our questions matter. Our experience matters. None of it changes truth and reality. But it’s the lens we see life through. It affects how we live that life.

I want this particular woman to stop preaching at me on whatever topic springs to her mind. But, more so, I want to be the person who asks curious questions and engages empathetically in the responses.

I have to want to hear more than I want to be heard.

Perhaps a graphic novel or two might teach this lady and I both about the difference between speech bubbles and thought bubbles.

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