Conversational Generosity

I recently read a brief paper called “Let Your Wisdom Shine as a Reflection of the Other,” by essayist Charles MacDermed. His words manifest a rare generosity of spirit, expressed in elegant language. With Charles’ permission, here are some excerpts:

“Can you show as much genuine respect for your fellow conversationalists as you would have sincerely shown to you? Do you grace your correspondents in dialog with deferential esteem and appreciative admiration? Can you in working fact give them a higher quality of camaraderie than you expect or require of them? Don’t stint. Rather be radically bighearted: give more than you get – by far more. Don’t wait to get before you give. Be the very epitome of outgoing benevolence. Display an affable gregariousness that is the manifest paragon of conversational engagement. Outdo yourself as though your partners in talk were the source of your inspiration: demonstrate to them the degree to which they indispensably are your cherished personal muse. Let your wisdom shine as a reflection of them.

“Speak the language of the other: use their words – as an efficacious means of proving that you both hear and value what they say (be they right or wrong). . . . [T]hey are offering you a look into their own personal thought. Treat their confession of trust with reciprocal sincerity. . . . Make even more of their intended meaning than they themselves might imagine.”

Reading Charles’ essay reminded me of a passage from Bridging the God Gap: Finding Common Ground Among Believers, Atheists and Agnostics: “Attitude is crucial. If you are sincerely interested in connecting with another human being, he or she will probably feel safe enough to open up. Even if you stumble and stammer, your good intentions will come across. But if your goal is to attack, debate, or dominate, it’s hard to conceal this agenda with handy-dandy communication techniques” (p. 51).

In MacDermed’s essay I especially appreciated these comments: “Don’t stint. Rather be radically bighearted . . . Don’t wait to get before you give.” And: “Make even more of their intended meaning than they themselves might imagine.”

Although Charles was not specifically discussing conversations about theology, his suggestions would certainly apply to that context. I admit that generosity of spirit may do little good if the gap between world-views is too wide, or if tensions are too high. But even then, being “radically bighearted” may produce surprising results.

Thanks, Charles, for the opportunity to share your thoughts with others.

Roger Christan Schriner

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