It’s safe to say I’m a bit of a Chatty Cathy. I adore the art of conversation and believe dynamic conversation results from the meeting of active and curious minds. Every conversation is an invitation to know someone, learn, and feel something. The exchange of knowing, learning, and feeling is a gift received and offered. We can weave our words together into fantastic technicolor dream coats or weaponize them. When we weaponize our words, they are a wound received and offered. For better or worse, words are undeniably powerful.
Words can bob and sway, or press against the current; they can move in tandem or collide head-on. Words can be set loose at high speeds or parsed at a glacial pace; they are effervescent as champagne or thick as molasses. Words can be transparent and shiny or dark and cloudy; they are beautiful or broken.
Growing up in my family, the mantra was: Children should be seen and not heard. My words were stifled. I could not speak at the dinner table, during holiday gatherings, when relatives visited, while watching TV, or when riding in the car. I could not talk back, speak up, interrupt, interject, or object. Basically, I was afraid to open my mouth, period.
Not surprisingly, I was labeled the quiet, shy girl in school. It wasn’t until junior high when my family moved to a new street and I befriended three fabulously mouthy, boisterous, loud, and proud girls my age that I found a voice, and I haven’t stopped using it since!
Sure, not everyone has the stamina or penchant for endless hours of delicious conversation – they’re obviously aliens and not to be trusted. Not everyone has the patience to stop for a moment of small talk at the grocery store, in the airport, on the street, or whilst out walking the dog. Again, alien and not to be trusted.
In my book, if an engaging conversation is food for the soul, then casual pleasantries, a quick quip, and brief exchanges with would-be strangers are “soul snacks”. Words are the morsels we feed each other, and, since the emergence of COVID, some of us have been on a severely restricted diet – maybe even starving and near death! Okay, I’m prone to the dramatic, but for those who live alone or have been quarantined, it definitely ain’t easy.
Perhaps among the plethora of contributing factors, suffering less face-to-face conversation has fueled the abundance of online verbal venom. People seem to be using words more than ever, but are far less empathetic, understanding, generous, and kind during a time we need such compassion the most. As a lover of words and conversation, I’m up for productive debate, but will not author hate. Remember that the next time you’re online: Productive debate, not hate.
In good times or bad, don’t overlook the largeness of small talk, the cheerfulness of chit-chat, or the nourishment of full-frontal conversation. Let your words be your gift to the world.