Thursday, July 21, 2011

In the Conversation

There was a bit of a concern raised about the beginning of yesterday's article, in which I was ranting a little about people opening a conversation with a stranger with something that is not of concern to the other, such as sexual preference or a disability. It was rightly pointed out that many wonderful conversations have begun with this, and that the friendship developed after this, when everything was put into a context.

Of course. I completely agree. That is so true.

As I said there, it is not always the case that these conversations are dead ends, but more often than not, they are.

The comments, though, have raised a very good point, and I think it is important to address it. Namely, a good conversation should take into account all the people engaged in it.

I have a very good friend who, one day, decided to use a technique that she probably got from Toastmasters (a very fine group, if you ask me). She said that she was trying an experiment in which she would pick a quote from the Writings and try to include it in as many conversations as she could throughout the day.

I thought that was all well and good, but pointed out to her that it meant, in a sense, that the quote was more important than the person with whom she was talking. This took her aback, in a good way, and made her re-think what she was doing. There is nothing wrong with trying to see if we can squeeze a particular quote in, but it is far more effective when it fits snugly into the discussion, rather than coming out of left field.

You know, I've had the wonderful pleasure of having many people from a great variety of religious groups come around to my home to see if they could teach me something about their Faith. Generally, my response is that I'm very happy to listen. Of course, that makes them happy, and they begin.

Once this happens, I notice something with a lot of them: they don't care who they are talking to. I could be anyone. They have their set agenda, or script, and nothing I say or do will deviate them from this for very long. The people who are like this don't hold my attention, and I think that I'm a bit more forgiving of this than many, despite how I may have come across in my last posting.

Now that I am aware of this dynamic, I try to avoid it when I am speaking about the Baha'i Faith. You will note, for example, that the more comments I get, or the more feedback that I receive on what I write, the more I am able to address concerns of the reader (that's you).

Let's take a look at the presentation in Ruhi Book 6. You will note that there is an outline, if you will, that Anna is following. But scattered throughout the unit there are many clues, sentences and phrases, that indicate that what she is doing is really listening to Emilia's needs.

In section 7, for example, it begins with the phrase, "From our previous conversations", and then concludes with "Before going on, perhaps I should stop here so that we can discuss any questions you have. What do you think about what I have said up to now?" Over and over again, she gives Emilia the chance to ask questions, to express her feelings. She doesn't hog the conversation, but she also doesn't allow it to just go all over the place. She has a series of topics that she'd like to address, and does it quite well, but it is in response to Emilia, not in spite of her.

Anna has established a relationship with her friend and is actively engaging her in an exploration of the Baha'i Faith.

You see, this is a far more effective way of presenting the Faith to someone than merely saying, "I'm a Baha'i."

If you want a fun little experiment, you can take all the themes from that presentation in Book 6, as well as the themes from Units 2 and 3 of the second book, Arising to Serve, and write them down on a piece of paper. You should use no more than a simple phrase for each title. Some examples would be "Need for an Educator", "Nature of God", "Gender Equality".

Now that you have this list, imagine a friend of yours. What topic is dearest to their heart? Which one most closely answers a burning question of theirs?

Now suppose you were talking with an atheist. Which topic would be most appropriate to address? Would you talk about the nature of God? I hope not. But the need for an educator would be a good one.

Suppose you were talking with a born-again Christian. How would you begin? What if they loved sports? Or if they were a chef? Or a lawyer? It's very interesting to do this in a group, and see what others think. Oh, and if you're discussing this with some friends, don't just leave it at the selection of a topic. Ask each other why they chose the topic they did. The rationale will probably fascinate you. I know it did me when I tried this.

You can also look at the conversations listed in the questions in the 3rd Unit of Book 2 (it's still called Arising to Serve), and see which of these themes connects most naturally to it. Just in case you're not sure what I`m talking about, it would be like the second question in section 3, in which they list "The conditions of society", "Life after death", "Literacy" and "The need for one to have a trade or profession in life". The topics that you would address may not be on your list, and that's ok

What's most important, at least to me (not that that's worth anything to anyone but me), is that our conversations become relevant to the person with whom we are speaking. This is how I have seen the teaching work become more effective.

At the end of the day, when I am bringing myself to account, there is a simple question I ask myself about all the various "teaching" conversations I have had throughout the day: Did it matter who I was talking to? If it did, if they had an equal or superior hand in directing the main topic of conversation, then chances are that it was meaningful to them. If not, then I was most likely only speaking to hear myself talk.

Now I wonder how that works with this blog. Am I writing to only read my own words, or am I responding to what others are writing to me? I'm not really sure, but I do pray that it is the latter, and not the former.

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