I first learned to read body language in a high school psychology course. When I was a young adult, communication skills were taught in a college course. When I became involved in parish ministry, my diocese had a highly recommended program called “The Listening Lab”, from which I learned even better communication skills.
That was a long time ago. It’s been apparent since then that most people have never attended such programs. Maybe the lack of formal training in communication skills accounts for, in a large way, why marriages fail.
And how are today’s young people being prepared for a future in which good communication can save marriages, increase effectiveness in jobs, and make the world a better, more peaceful place? They’ve been growing up in a culture that glorifies getting things done quicker, including faster conversations via Twitter, Facebook, and sending text messages on personal phones.
Is the “art of conversation” becoming a lost art? I mean, conversation in the form of actually talking to each other, face to face, looking up into the other person’s eyes instead of down at a mobile communications device.
The next time you see a group of young people, observe: How many are looking up into another person’s eyes? Versus: How many are together, perhaps even talking to each other, but only while looking down at some sort of mobile device?
Face to face is THE most important communications “tool.” Not only does it require taking time to use language instead of short cuts, it also requires using the right language — i.e., the words that will reach the other person’s heart because we are taking time to pay attention to their personhood, their mood, their worries, their needs, and their ability to absorb and understand what is being said.
There is much to be learned from looking at someone and watching their facial expressions and listening to their tone of voice and their use of their hands while talking. From this learning process, we gain understanding, and with understanding comes better and more permanent relationships. And world peace begins within the environment of personal, peaceful relationships.
Christ’s mission is not accomplished through tweets, Facebook updates, and text messaging. Although these can certainly help with the mission, they are only like sugar crystals sprinkled on a cookie. Cookies need a lot more ingredients. They also need to get baked. I believe the Church (parishes, dioceses, organizations like Good News Ministries, etc.) needs — vitally needs — to be offering cooking classes: Listening Labs and seminars on the art of real conversation. Otherwise, the “new evangelization” will be as effective as unbaked cookies sitting in a cold oven.
What do you think? Do you have communications courses in your diocese? How do you teach your young people to engage in the art of real conversation?
© 2012 by Terry A. Modica