The Joy of Conversation - It’s Worth the Effort

By Jim Grout

When was the last time you had a conversation that mattered?  I know the word “mattered” is a relative term, but recently I have been reflecting on the importance of conversations and how many meaningful conversations I have had with students during our Edge of Leadership (EOL) Summer Program – now in its 9th year!  Recently, when a high school student remarked, “I’ve never done this before” (sat around a table and talked about things that mattered), it reminded me of the value of connecting in this way.  During the 3-day program, we ask students to disconnect from their digital devices and reconnect with each other via the lost art of conversation. As educators, we are encouraging young people to find their voice and speak their mind by providing time and space for it to happen.

Why is Conversation so Valuable?

Author Sherry Turkle reminds me of the personal growth that is a by-product of conversation in her book Reclaiming Conversation, in which she explains, “Face-to-Face conversation is the most human and humanizing thing we do.  Fully present to one another, it’s where we learn to listen.  It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy.  It’s where we experience the joy of being heard, of being understood.”

During the summer program, we let conversations unfold naturally, with a little prompting from our team.  Often we hear students remark that they are relieved to put down their cell phones and talk to each other, face-to-face.  This simple step helps to create a stage for being available for conversation.  In Turkle’s book, she explains the difference between conversation and online connections in this manner, “Face-to-Face conversation unfolds slowly.  It teaches patience.  We attend to tone and nuance.our online connections, we want immediate answers.  In order to get them, we ask simpler questions, we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters.”

Conversation in Action: Summer EOL

Summer EOL is a 3-day journey into some unfamiliar territory: the outdoors.  There are some physical challenges combined with mental ones, but it also includes a dialogue session in which students share their thoughts, perspectives, and life experiences – face-to-face and heart-to-heart.  Frequently, the discussion starts out slowly but inevitably the dialogue finds a cadence where time seems to stand still and students are shocked to find out that they were talking for 2 hours about things that matter!  With over 40 years of leading workshops, this particular dialogue session always reinvigorates the joy I find in working with young people.  The results of conversations are always profound in two ways: the pure joy and the simplicity of the exchange and in the thoughts and feelings shared.  The dialogue is guided by a theme, The Teen Years… Then and Now, and includes students and adults.  Below is a summary of stirring student responses to various questions ranging from their greatest fears to their goals and dreams and the future that they envision…

  • Many of the world’s burdens are at the breaking point and young people may have to solve them. Young people can’t do it alone.
  • Sometimes parents want to shape who you are and what you become.
  • There’s a lot of pressure in schools… there are so many groups; rumors … are you “in” or “out”?
  • People need to fail in order to learn, but it is scary to fail.
  • Teachers can motivate you to change.
  • Heros and role models are never the famous people; they are the people right in your own life.
  • The world is afraid of change but it happens anyway…we can change it the way we want it to go.
  • Finding happiness in my life’s work is a goal.
  • It’s a goal to work toward common ground, to bridge the gap between different opinions and perspectives.

Create an Environment for Conversation

The thoughtful words of these young people and adults capture the essence of multiple generations of ideas and thought-provoking perspectives.  I am most struck by the commonality of it all.  At the deepest levels, we are more alike than different.  To realize and build upon our connections, it’s important to make space for conversation and to listen with equal effort.  At High 5, we “walk the talk” by carving out time in our workshops for conversation to flourish.

All folks who attend workshops at High 5 receive our How We Gather communiqué that sets the stage for their time with us and primes their readiness to be fully present.  Click here to read that message in its entirety.  Then, take some time to slow down and make space for conversation in the hallway, in the classroom, in the cafeteria, and around the table at dinnertime.  It will change you and it might even change the world – for the better.  As one student remarked in the conversation, “We can change the world, the way we want it to go.”

Learn more about our Summer Edge of Leadership experience here.