Conversation Catalyst or Conversation Coward?

Photo by Pedro Silva

Usually I write poems or long blogs to express my thoughts. This time I drew a picture. The point of the picture—if it’s not obvious—is that I think we are at a critical moment in the world when we can choose to be #ConversationCatalysts and foster a #CollaborativeCulture or we can be #ConversationCowards and devolve into #CompleteChaos.

In my estimation, every organization in every industry in the world will have to wake up to this eventually. The question they have to ask themselves is how are they preparing the people who work and serve with them to be Conversation Catalysts? Because the alternative is becoming increasingly obvious.

So you might be asking, ”What is a Conversation Catalyst?” Well, I will unpack that in a later post. But for now, I’m going to assume that you know what a conversation is and leave you with these definitions for a Catalyst.

cat·a·lyst : /ˈkad(ə)ləst/ – noun

  1. a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change.”chlorine acts as a catalyst promoting the breakdown of ozone”
  2. a person or thing that precipitates an event.”the governor’s speech acted as a catalyst for debate”

You can decide for yourself which one relates to you.

With regard to being a Conversation Coward, we all know what that’s like. As poet, David Whyte, said, “The courageous conversation is the one you don’t want to have.” If you’re at least willing the to have the conversations you don’t want to have, then you are not operating from cowardice. But when the thought of speaking to someone with whom we might disagree terrifies us, we have work to do. And, when we’re afraid to talk to someone with a different perspective because we fear they’ll change our minds or tell us something we don’t want to hear, we’re being cowards. And that needs to stop.

Of course in the drawing, I depict a worse case—but not an impossible—scenario of what could be ahead of us if we can’t figure out how to talk one another. We destroyed the whole world and there was nothing left except toxic polarization and cockroaches. Is that the kind of future we want? Or, do we want a future full of growth opportunities? Well one path is a conversation away and the other path is when we move away from conversations. Which path do you want to take?

Now in case someone reading this thinks I am referring to being a Conversation Catalyst in situations that are clearly dangerous, I’m not. And, I think you know that. Though we can’t always admit it, I have had more folks than I can count admit to me that they know there is a difference between a reasonable fear and an irrational one. But, the desire to be right often overwhelms their compassion and capacity for talking with folks with differing views. Here’s a tip to get around that.

Conversation does not have to be a competition.

We can actually hear what another person thinks on a variety of different issues and survive. We just aren’t practiced at it. So a different idea feels like a threat to way too many of us. That’s why it takes work and a willingness to be honest with oneself about our present conversational limitations. I know that might sound scary because we’ve been taught to see limitations as weaknesses. They are not. In many case, they are just latent potentials not yet exercised. And, a Conversation Catalyst is simply someone who is willing to do “conversations calisthenics” so to speak. Anyone can do it. You just have to have a space to practice.

Fortunately, we live in the best time in history to start developing these skills. Literally thousands and thousands of people and hundreds of organization are putting in time, talent, and treasure to create both safe and brave spaces for us to build our capacity to converse across differences. And most of them are free to the participants. There is literally no excuse, for folks who are willing, to not take a conversational risk and begin unlocking their latent Conversation Catalyst capacity.

In fact, in late April, there are going to be some many opportunities that they are spanning that nation. I’m talking about the events know as America Talks and the National Week of Conversation. And, if you happen to be in Colorado, there’s an opportunity that I am directly involved in that give all Coloradans over 18 a chance to be a #ConversationCatalyst for the #UnifyChallengeCO (https://www.unifyamerica.org/friends/colorado) Message me for details.

Democracy’s a very fragile thing. You have to take care of democracy. As soon as you stop being responsible to it and allow it to turn into scare tactics, it’s no longer democracy, is it?

Sam Shephard

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