Conversation or conversion?

I have noticed that there seems to be two main approaches to the ways that we interact as humans with each other.

There is one method which I refer to as the conversational and relational approach. It is practice of showing up in a dialogue as one’s authentic self. It is engaged and approaches the other with a sense of curiosity. It seeks a mutual dialogue in which both parties influence each other. It is not dependent on proving itself or defending its own beliefs. It listens to hear and pays attention to understand. It asks questions that increase interest and communication. It allows itself to walk away changed no matter if that is in ways small or large. It is free to allow the other person to exist and move through the world in a different way without being threatened by it. It welcomes new information and necessary transformation. It openly admits when there is uncertainty or less clarity.

The other approach I refer to as the conversion approach. This approach treats the person as an object or commodity. It sees them as something to be conquered and their viewpoint as something to be changed. It treats them as the target of a careful sales pitch. It is only interested in hearing the other side to find more fuel to assert their own opinion. It is intent on catching out, proving wrong, and dominating the other person. This approach doesn’t see the value in dialogue. It doesn’t view interactions as mutual or giving in both directions. In fact, it steadfastly refuses to allow experiences to change or enlighten their own perspective. Oftentimes, this is because so much is riding on the need to appear competent or right. It is a refusal to be vulnerable—a core part of what it means to be human.

I think there may be times when this conversion approach is appropriate, but for the most part I see people falling into this as their primary mode of communication far too often. The root of this is pride. It is the assumption that you have all the answers and have nothing to receive from the other party. It is the assumption that this other party’s difference with you in one particular way invalidates any positive influence they could have on your life. It demands from the other what it will not willingly give itself—consideration and respect.

I would actually posit that no matter how you approach dialogue you will always walk away changed. If you do not allow your intersection with the other party to change you, you will be changed in another way. You will become more hardened in your own rightness and dogma, less able to see the world through any lens other than your own.

If your only interactions with people who are different than you are with the primary intent of changing them, you have bought into a way of moving through the world that will only hurt you. We need each other, we need each other’s perspectives, and we need to learn to build relationships with people that are not based on the need to make people look, sound, and believe like us. I have personally found that I have had more meaningful conversations and dialogues by taking this approach. If we honor the humanity of the other, we open up a million new pathways of possibility for positive change for the both of us.

What would it look like for you to enter into genuine conversation and relationship with people, rather than treating them as objects for conversion? What if you treated interactions as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than a way to solidify or promote your own views? 

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