Sometimes I’ll go an entire day feeling like none of my conversations mean much. So lately I’ve wondered—how can I deepen my conversations? How can I take them beyond the trivial?
On those meaning-free days, I don’t have any conversations or interactions with people around me that feel particularly deep or impactful. Even on the days when I do manage to go a little deeper, those conversations often just involve venting or trauma-dumping, in more intense circumstances.
Letting out what happens in our personal lives and sorting through individual problems with friends certainly defines a natural and healthy part of how we connect. Many of us still need to work on opening our lives up to others to find guidance and companionship on our journey towards growth.
Though personal healing certainly has its importance, does talking about our own lives represent the only kind of deep conversations we can attain? Can other profound forms of conversation have healthy, constructive outcomes too?
I’ve come to realize that yes, they can.
The Baha’i teachings say that in order to engage in meaningful conversation which can lead to bettering our society we don’t always have to debate acrimoniously or contend with each other. Alternatively, we can elevate our discussions and conversations to another plane—what the Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected global leadership body of the world’s Baha’is, called “constructive public discourse … aimed at the betterment of the world:”
While eschewing partisan political activity, Baha’is are to vigorously engage in constructive public discourse and in a wide range of social endeavours aimed at the betterment of the world and the progress of their respective nations. They undertake such activities with humility, discernment and respect for prevailing laws and social conditions, in a spirit of learning and in collaboration with like-minded groups and individuals, fully confident in the power inherent in the principle of unity in diversity and in the efficacy of mutual aid and cooperation. – The Universal House of Justice, 22 January 2010.
This encouragement brings many other ways to elevate our conversations to mind—so let’s explore them in this three-part series on having meaningful conversations with each other. First, we can all benefit from the widening and broadening of our concerns.
I have many relationships where it feels easy to get caught up in just talking about the personal successes or misfortunes happening in one another’s lives. While these conversations can enrich a friendship—through them, we sort out our feelings, thoughts, and plans for future action—we may miss opportunities when we only talk about these kinds of things.
When we don’t open our minds to thinking and talking about the state of the world around us, we keep ideas that might alleviate the pain of others tucked away in our subconscious. In the same way that our conversations with friends often lead to us having an epiphany about questions in our own personal lives, conversations focused on the larger world around us might lead to epiphanies about how we can contribute to its betterment.
To get into a focused conversation around something going on in the world, we have to get out of our own heads—to dedicate time and energy to thinking bigger:
Every imperfect soul is self-centred and thinketh only of his own good. But as his thoughts expand a little he will begin to think of the welfare and comfort of his family. If his ideas still more widen, his concern will be the felicity of his fellow citizens; and if still they widen, he will be thinking of the glory of his land and of his race. But when ideas and views reach the utmost degree of expansion and attain the stage of perfection, then will he be interested in the exaltation of humankind. He will then be the well-wisher of all men and the seeker of the weal and prosperity of all lands. This is indicative of perfection. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 69.
The Baha’i teachings encourage everyone to expand their thoughts—to focus not on the self or on this material world, but on the world of the spirit. To do that, we can all try to elevate our conversations with our friends.
This doesn’t mean that we ignore our personal life completely. For our conversations to be fruitful, we also need to consider the role we play in shaping the world around us, and the ways the world’s moral and spiritual realities affect the way we think. If we don’t consider that role, conversations about political issues, humanity’s behavioral patterns, the universe, spiritual matters, our souls, and religion can become a mere academic exercise. When we open up our conversations to important external subjects, and rather than expressing a personal opinion, seek the opinions of others, we’re on the way to truly meaningful conversations.