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Monday, August 16, 2010

The Will to Connect

The will to connect is a matter of careful focus, active listening, and informed response—when communication is not sold out to the polite conventions of discourse.  The polite conventions of discourse are very powerful.  I had a linguistic professor who admitted to a long-standing temptation—on leaving at the close of a tiring party he would like to meet the host at the door and in a very polite and conventional tone and inflection say, “I had a perfectly miserable time.”  It was his guess that the host would hear only the conventional tone and inflection and not the literal content and duly respond, “Thank you very much.”  The conventions of discourse can give us a free ride in social engagement, and that’s why we so frequently engage in them.  We can be barely listening and appear to be carrying on animated social discourse.  We tend to remember as archived snapshots in time our encounters with those who have an earnest will to connect.  I remember some years ago waiting in a long reception line for the new Resident Bishop of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church, Timothy W. Whitaker.  It was at a conference held at the Lakeland Center and the line snaked around several large rooms.  I stood in line for over 30 minutes.  When it came time for me to shake hands with the new bishop and his wife I rather apologetically introduced myself.  He immediately mentioned working with my brother and nephew.  I was stunned.  He actually, after meeting all these people, was still listening—not merely going through the motions of polite conventional discourse.  He impressed me immediately as being a very capable person—not so much that he recognized my last name, but because he was still listening at all.  The will to connect precedes rather than follows real communication.  The bishop did not tire, but maintained an active will to connect.

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