Revive the art of conversation

conversation

 

In school I studied a vital key to communication: Writing. But as adulthood has forced me out of my shell of adolescence and I’m no longer able to hide the fact that I’m actually a really shy person, the oral elements of communication have become more important. By oral elements I mean conversation.

Conversation: Oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas. 

With the use of texting, messaging, snapping, and social media comments, conversation has evolved radically since the days before the age of technology.

I’ve noticed that people are more likely to text or message me than to strike up a conversation in person. Quite honestly, I hate having conversations through instant messages, because there is such a loss of clarity in the mix. No facial expressions. No body language. No personality traits. And let’s face the truth, emojis hardly do the job.

I recently had a very good conversation with someone and it caused me to wonder how I learned to get over the fear of talking to new people. When did I begin using my words instead of my keyboard? I once was shy and quiet, but somewhere between high school and now, I learned the great joy and satisfaction that comes with in-person conversation.

So I want to encourage my reader to consider this post as a challenge for you to be more intentional with your communication and to seek those in-person conversations, where both individuals are entirely present.

Observe the following seven steps to good conversation.

 

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  1. Begin by asking questions. I recently met a guy at a laser tag outing among friends. Although we had not previously been introduced, we shared a similar social circle. I asked him how to read the score  after the game and he explained that if you are at the bottom of the screen, which I was, you probably came in last, which I did.
  2. Introduce yourself. After a few moments I introduced myself saying, “I don’t know you. What’s your name?” Yeah, I’m pretty forward with introductions, but not everyone has to be. Right away I learned his name and he learned mine which unfolded a conversation of why we hadn’t met before. I explained I was in Korea the week before when our friends met up. He explained he was out of town the week before that.
  3. Ask general questions that pertain to what you know about the person. His name was Joel and after another few moments he asked what I was doing in Korea. Keeping it simple, because most people don’t want to hear about your fantastic trip in South East Asia, I said I was visiting friends. Apparently Joel had been to China  and we made light conversation about the 13 hour flight  across the world.
  4. Try to find common ground. Joel asked what I did that allowed me a vacation to Korea, and I told him. In exchange, I asked what he did. When he said he was an ESL teacher, my mind immediately thought of my brother and sister who are both international ESL teachers. This note of information spurred him to tell me about his upcoming venture to Brazil, where he’d signed a two-year contract to teach English.
  5. Discover what they are passionate about.  I began to ask Joel what drew him to Brazil. In college his roommate was Brazilian, or from Brazil, sometimes details get lost in the art of conversation because you are trying to connect the dots and keep momentum going. I gathered that Joel was interested in teaching overseas, curious about Brazil, and really liked soccer.  I pocketed this information because I also liked soccer, but it didn’t seem like the right time to say it.
  6. Allow time for thought. In conversation the person you’re talking to is going to know if you are really interested or if you are just being polite. By now our chat had turned into an extended talk, as Joel expounded on the process of raising money for his trip to Brazil. His travel dates were unsure because his support had only covered 90% of the costs. So I decided to indulge my curiosity and ask Joel what he’d been doing up ’till now.
  7. Don’t change the subject too often. This was a natural turn in the conversation where we left the thought of Brazil and the money to be raised, and focused on the now. Joel had just finished teaching at an ESL school in Indianapolis. I was familiar with the school because my parents are International Home Stay hosts, and they hosted a student from his school. We talked about the Japanese student who lived with my family for the passed eight months. The commonalities we shared seemed to be more than we could count but the richness of our simple conversation diverged from the fact that we were both entirely present.

So what did I learn from talking with Joel?

Approach every conversation expecting to learn something new. Be curious because you may never know when your path will cross with this person again. You also don’t know what this person is going through. Maybe shifting the focus from you to them will open opportunities you never imagined. Conversation is a lost art. Let’s learn to revive it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Eve in a Congolese Church

 

I spent New Year’s eve in a Congolese church, singing about God’s faithfulness and dancing to the beat of the African drum, alongside a people with whom I share a history.

My father is Rwandan, born in the neighboring country Burundi, but he grew up in Congo, a country once known as Zaire. While he lived in Africa, Congo Kinshasa was home to my father and though he was not Congolese, he spoke Lingala, Swahili, and French.

Image result for map of congo and rwanda

 

Lingala is what I heard the night of New Year’s eve from a host of African Christians praising God in their own tongue and in their own form of worship, through dance and song. I danced too, awkwardly I suppose, but freely and without hesitation. I listened to the French songs and sang to the best of my limited French ability. They also sang songs in Swahili jumping and waving their hands, so I mimicked the phrases and thought about this language my Grandparents spoke, two African individuals of my own bloodline whom I never really got to know.

The service was wonderfully long and continued through the night until the  New Year came. “You are from Ethiopia?” the Pastor asked, putting me on the spot in front of the whole congregation. “No” I replied naturally. “Well, they say the most beautiful women come from Ethiopia. You must have some African heritage in you.” I didn’t know whether I should be offended or flattered, nor did I know quite how to respond.

People ask me if I am Ethiopian all the time, especially if they are from India, East Africa, or sometimes the Middle East. “I am from America, but my father is from Africa,” I explained later when the women approached me and asked again. They said no more, but accepted me as a sister, a cousin, a daughter. And I felt as if I was part of some special club using the origin of my Father as a token of membership.

For some reason, though I’m not sure why, I am drawn to African people, mostly from Sub-Saharan  Africa. Maybe because I seek an identity, or maybe because I am biracial and constantly searching for a people group to call my own. But most of the time I think it’s because they always accept my big curly hair. 🙂

Happy New Year.  Bonne Année.

Why I Talk Like a White Girl

I spent fall break in Alexandria visiting my cousins with my brother and sister. As we drove through the city with my cousins, who are both black, the Uber driver, also black, kept looking at us in the rear-view mirror. Finally when our conversation died down in the back seat, he spoke up.

“Where Y’all from?” he said. His voice cloaked in that deep Virginian accent.

We told him we hailed from the Midwest and were visiting DC for the weekend.

“Okay,” he replied, “It’s just. . . y’all talk so strange.”

He went on to say that when he’d heard my cousin over the phone, he arrived in his Uber car looking for a group of white people.

“I had to do a double take to make sure y’alls was really black. Sounds like I’m drivin a bunch of white folks.”

He was laughing as he said this because to him it was so outlandish that a group of black youth were talking like white folks.  We laughed too because we know our accent is odd considering how we look.

It’s problematic sometimes, being black and talking white. What’s hard about it? Relating to black people. Well at least in my case.

Is it just me or do they look at me funny because I don’t speak like them?

What’s annoying is when people ask me if I speak Ebonics.

“Can you talk like, you know, a real black person.”

Again with the word “real,” it confuses me.

“You mean do I use African American Vernacular?”

“Yeah you know . . . like gettin your sass on and all.”

“Hell no.”

Let me note that black people never ask me this. It’s just my white friends who are curious about my background. #understandable

I use to feel bad because I couldn’t speak Ebonics. It was just another thing that removed me from the black community. But I had to ask myself if it was something people should assume about me.

“Oh your black, so can you dance like Will Smith?”

“Hell no.”

I suppose this was something they could assume. As a kid I assumed all Chinese could do Karate, all Hispanics could dance Salsa, and all Indians liked super spicy food.

Assumptions can be easily replaced with curiosity. #CuriosityIsKey

“So I’m curious, why don’t you speak like most people in the black community?”

This is a question I would be happy to answer, because it gives off a vibe that the one posing the question is eager to learn. This approach puts me in a comfortable position. Otherwise my explanation of why I don’t talk a certain way comes out in a more defensive manner.

Why do I talk like a white girl? Well, first of all I don’t. What I speak is Standard American English, a dialect that is linguistically equal to Ebonics. It is what my mother and father speak and the dialect of almost everyone around me.

My parents understand that society deems this variety of English as more educated than others and therefore as kids we were not allowed to use African American Vernacular.

Imagine if society didn’t demean certain varieties of English. Imagine if all dialect and varieties were societally equal. Communication is the purpose of language, so there is no ethical values in using one variety.

For the record, I love hearing people speak Ebonics. It intrigues me in how it combines words, removing suffixes and adding prefixes. I’m fascinated by the rise and fall of the speech patterns. It makes me envy the ability some have to code-switch and therefore comfortably communicate with two different people groups. So, yes, though I can’t speak it, I recognize Ebonics as a valuable means of communication.