A few years ago, while reading Dr. Wayne Dyer’s (2006) book, Inspiration, I came across a section about listening to others that really spoke to me. Essentially, Dyer outlines the ability to listen well as a way to “inspire others,” saying that “there’s no higher compliment than to be told we’re a good listener. Everyone loves a good listener largely because it makes them feel loved, cared for, and worthy of being heard.” Even further, he goes on to say that “when we leave any encounter where we feel we’ve been heard, even if we know the listener strongly disagreed with us, we are still inspired…Why? Because for a few moments the listener emulated what it feels like to pray.” I remember pausing after reading that last line to consider the idea that listening well is reflecting back to the speaker. I even wondered about the use of words. Is it always necessary to use words or is it okay to just be present and listen. After reading about Andy and Jonathan in Chapter 6 of Turkle’s AloneTogether, I am led to wonder more deeply about what/how we are reflecting during conversations with other. Do we inspire others by just listening or is more required? Do we have to speak in response? If so, are words enough or do they have to be accompanied by emotions and experience? If listening is enough in conversation and relationships, then can robots like My Real Baby be enough? Turkle’s response, and I agree, might be that mere presence is not a qualifying factor for conversation or forming relationships, because those exchanges are void of the most important elements: genuine emotion and care. In Stop Googling. Let’s Talk, Turkle advocates for “open-ended and spontaneous” conversations because during these conversations, “we learn to make eye contact, to become aware of another person’s posture and tone, to comfort one another and respectfully challenge one another — that empathy and intimacy flourish. In these conversations, we learn who we are” and I would add, help people see who they are.
Within the context of a classroom, effective communication is essential to student learning. I am a fierce advocate for face to face conversations, and I am realizing that more and more, a student will walk out of my classroom and then send an email asking a question–avoiding a face to face conversation and opting for a more distancing tool to communicate. I am not even certain that students are purposefully avoiding conversation; instead, I am wondering if we are simply operating on different definitions of what it means to engage in a conversation. This year, there is an expectation that every teacher has a digital presence with class content accessible to students outside of the classroom. Some media through with this access is created include platforms such as Google Site and Classroom. In looking at behavior and expectation, there seems to be an obvious irony at work where we are creating an environment where we are communicating to our primary audience (students) through distancing tools like email, posts, websites, etc., while at the same time, expecting those same students to seek us out for personal conversations when they have questions.
One area in my personal life to which I pay particular attention is how I communicate with my children. It has always been a family practice to spend at least one hour before bedtime together. Activities during that time typically include talking about our to get a cell phone for our 11 year old daughter, we were certain that with her phone might come rules and regulations, phone checks, data limits, etc., but that has not been the case at all. If fact, while her communication with her friends has increased somewhat, she uses her devices responsibly. I will say that our communication has changed somewhat in that my daughter and I have constant access to one another. Although I typically prefer face-to-face conversations, often, she chooses the mode through which she wants to communicate with me. If she is in another room and wants to ask a question, she is likely to send a text message for an instant response. If she needs my opinion on an outfit and hairstyle, she may use Facetime so that we can have a more intimate conversation. In this particular case, I believe that the power has shifted somewhat to empower her because of mere access.
I will admit that I have a love/hate relationship with popular social media tools. For years, I have resisted partaking in this world because I felt, and still feel, that special moments in my life are ones to be cherished privately. When something positive happens, I love to keep it to myself a bit to enjoy and when I feel ready to share, I do so very selectively. Recently, I created an account on a popular social networking site because a few groups to which I belong was using this tool as a way to communicate with its members and I found that I was either missing a substantial amount of information or that someone would have to send a separate email to me. After dismissing prompts to share personal information like where I live, work, went to school, as well as my marital status, favorite movies, etc., I was then overwhelmed with requests to include others in my “network.” Do I have to accept? Would anyone be offended if I didn’t? It may sound trivial, but I felt like I had no choice but to accept and include everyone who asked. Dare I say, I felt powerless? As time went by, I started to see things that others are posting–pictures of themselves doing fun and interesting things. Should I also share pictures of things that I am doing? Do I feel left out? One might say that there is power in being able to choose what we share, but do we fully choose or are our choices dictated by what others around us are sharing? I have resisted to urge to upload pictures of my family’s most treasured moments, and have considered deleting my account several times. At this point, I have decided to use it for the purpose which it was intended: getting information from a few selected group. I simply have to do a lot of scrolling. Sometimes, though, I do pause to look at a picture or read a post.