I like a good conversation where speaking and listening is evenly traded. Snappy banter, the exchange of ideas and the sharing of thoughts is like dancing, and a skilled conversationalist is like a deft dancing partner. Exactly who is leading and who is following is indistinguishable. The discourse adheres to a certain rhythm allowing each partner to keep step without stepping on the other.
When the partners know each other well, a certain amount of hyperbole is tolerated whereas inconsistencies are challenged.
“How do you like the hot dish I made for supper?”
“It’s the best I’ve ever had.”
“Would you like some more?”
“No, thank you.”
“I thought you liked it.”
“I did – I mean I do. It’s just that I think we should save it in case someone else wants some.”
“There’s just the two of us here.”
“I know, but what if someone comes over, then what?
“No one is coming over.”
“I’d rather not risk it. Besides, I’m full. I couldn’t eat another bite.”
“Yes, I’m stuffed.”
“That’s too bad because I baked a pie.”
“Really? Well, maybe I have room for a small piece. Do we have any ice cream?”
Most conversations involve a question-and-answer period. Usually occurring at the beginning, this exchange can take many forms – from the unremarkable (“Some weather we’ve been having, huh?”) to the unwelcome (“What happened to your hair?”)
Sometimes the questions are part of a quest for allies in a battle where one is dragging the other down a path of enlightenment: “Don’t you agree that instead of always raising taxes we can solve this budget crisis by exercising a little fiscal constraint?”
In my experience it’s the follow-up, or the question behind the question, that can open a door or expose a truth. Several years ago I met Larry Werner, an editor for the Star Tribune. During our conversation he asked me what I did. After I stated my occupation, this seasoned journalist posed a life-changing, thought provoking second question:
“What else do you do?”
After I stumbled and hesitated I said, “I like to write.”
Then he told me to send him some of my writing. That one question gave me the push I needed to do what I always wanted. But without a question from a veteran newspaper man I may still be dreaming.
For a long time I knew that I enjoyed writing. But outside of writing a few stories for my kids and some skits for church I never did anything with it. Consequently, I could hardly be considered a writer (there are many who still support this view). I had failed to appreciate a simple truth: To be a writer one must write. If you like something, then show it, express yourself.
A couple months ago we were at my sister-in-law’s when a 2-year-old trapped me with her second question. Like all my nieces, Flora is quite smart, but her ability to reason seems advanced for her age. While listening to a song on her music box she was jumping around, or dancing as she likes to call it.
“Do you like this song?” she asked me.
“Yes I do,” I replied.
“Well you’re not dancing,” she said.
I laughed and said, “You’re right.”
Although she’s not yet able to share her thoughts logically, in Flora’s mind I was being inconsistent. If indeed I liked the song, I should be dancing. So I jumped up and became her dancing partner. Even though I couldn’t tell who was leading and who was following I didn’t step on her.