How are you - Really?

I wonder what our communities could be like if we took conversations to a new level of intensity?

Recently, driving on a major freeway, I saw a billboard advertisement for a major oil company. Referring to the company's record on climate change issues, the billboard proudly trumpeted "Talk stopped long ago." The implication of course is that this is a company that has:

•stopped the talk (which is by further implication, unproductive)

• rolled up its metaphorical sleeves and

• taken concrete action (which, by yet further implication, is the only productive response possible).

In our society it seems that talk has got a bad name. And that is not only the case in the heady world of corporate productivity. I've noticed around community spaces too that one often hears, "Oh no. It's going to be another talk fest?"

Is talk the villain we seem to have made it or could it have a very important place in building a new societal reality? Personally I sense that, while much of our talk - superficial talk - will never build something new, a new type of conversation is possible.

Speaking of such conversations, Laura Chasin of the Boston Public Conversations Project said:

"(It) reminds me of something I learned two years ago, when my husband had a terrible accident. He was swimming in a lake and a motorboat ran over him. The propeller cut a gaping gash in his leg. We rushed him to the hospital, but the doctor said that the wound was too large to be sewn up. The only thing we could do was keep the area clean and dry. ‘The two sides of the wound will reach out to each other,' the doctor said. ‘The wound wants to be whole.'"

"(These conversations) are like that. The participants and the human system they are part of what want to be whole. Our job as facilitators and leaders is simply to help create a clean, safe space. Then the healing will occur."

The challenge is to create the safe spaces where the conversation can get deep. Or, from a slightly different perspective, spaces where we will risk asking deeper questions. So often conversations are the stuff of "what we think about the coffee and who will win the football game this afternoon" write authors William Avery and Beth Ann Gaede. And conversations in faith communities seem to be no exception to this rule. Scared of the answers we might receive, we stick to the quality of the beverage and the sporting prophecy. But reaching out to create wholeness demands of us that we overcome our fear - that we risk asking "How are you - really?"

Do we dare to ask such a simple question that might take us so much deeper?

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