Saturday, April 5, 2014

What a Household Sister and Cicero Taught Me

Yesterday in Latin class, I had an exciting revelation (and, since I can't keep anything to myself, I told my teacher, who also thought it was interesting.). So of course, I must share it with all of you!

Last weekend, I was on retreat with my wonderful household sisters. It was truly a blessed time of relaxation and growth both spiritually  and as a family. Well, one of my sisters was giving a talk, in which she mentioned the need to be present to people in conversations.

"How many times," she asked us, "are you in a conversation with a person, but you mentally decide what to respond with while he/she is still talking?" She mentioned how we won't be fully present with others, but just be sitting around to jump in with our two cents. She encouraged us to listen to the other person, kind of formulate what you will say, but feel perfectly comfortable with a short period of silence as you respond.

Our Society Does It! (And so do I...)
And...I'm guilty as charged. In fact, sometimes, I'll be so awful as to map out in my head what I will say in a conversation before I even start talking with a person. I'm not being fully present and hanging on to a person's words; instead, I'm rushing ahead, taking part in a "conversation" just to get to a conclusion as soon as possible.

Granted, there are some occasions when people need to communicate quickly (like when you're working in the food industry, and you have to talk/work quickly many times). But seriously. Isn't it obnoxious when you're trying to talk with someone, and he/she is totally not paying full attention, or already seems to have a response mentally formulated? What's the point of conversing? Our everyday conversations are not job interviews that we have to plan out answers for! It's irritating, and it's even worse knowing that I have done this to people. But I'm trying to get away from this. I'm working to be present to people, and stop pre-planning my responses.

I definitely see a connection between our non-presence in conversations and our society of instant gratification. Seriously, many times when we're talking with people, we don't want to wait around and build relationships or see reasoning. We want it all now! We live in a culture of fast-food, texting, and flashes on information in commercials. We are taught from our youth to obtain our desires now. How often is it that, when we meet someone knew, we only last as long in conversation/friendship as he/she is interesting to us? Information, pleasure, whatever. It's something I call instant gratification.

My Revelation in Latin Class: 
We were translating a (very confusing) speech done by Cicero today. One of the factors that made it difficult was something which seems common to Latin: they don't seem to care about word order, and each word in the basic underlying sentence structure will be far apart from each other at times, with  bunches (and in Cicero's case, lots of bunches) of clauses in between. Our teacher explained to us that the early Romans spoke and understood like this. When talking with someone or hearing a speech, you would have to listen carefully to everything that a person said, so that you could understand how the clauses tied together in the end, and see what the person was trying to explain. The Roman mind understood language this way.

So, I naturally jumped in my seat excitedly told Dr. Smith what I had learned on retreat: that we need to be present to people, and really listen to what they are saying. Not just part of what people tell us, but to listen to all that they try to tell us. And that, from what we were seeing in Cicero's speech, I think we could benefit from a bit more of a Roman-mindset in this regard.

What We Can Learn:
The Roman culture had its definite flaws and sins, but I really, really think they nailed the whole language-thing (aside from their extensive use of the passive). We need to be present to others. I used to work at restaurants, and would get so sad when two people would be eating their food, and one would be playing with their phone, while the other would stare into space. Or how about people that would talk, but once they found a lack of things to talk about, just end the conversation and leave? No sitting in a brief silence to let ideas germinate.

Just have to throw in that the whole concept of "full present-ness" in conversations is crucial in marriage. Or any relationship, for that matter. I know it's super easy to let your emotions fly and make judgments immediately when another person says something, but this isn't necessarily the best route. Your spouse (or friend) needs to talk with you about something? Be a good listener and let him/her speak all the way through before responding. You'll be glad you did.

Let's actually converse with each other, being fully present, taking time to respond.

Let's turn around our culture one conversation at a time.