Swimming in the Deep End
Last week the New York Times ran an article titled â€śTalk Deeply, Be Happy?â€ť It featured a study showing that the more substantive conversations we have each day, the happier we are likely to be. The article got me thinking about what it means to connect meaningfully with others.
Great conversation is a highlight of my life. I understand the desire to tackle the subjects that weigh on our minds and hearts, especially the ones that hide beneath everyday chitchat. Because of this, I used to automatically categorize some discussions asÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â â€śsmall talkâ€ť and others as â€śdeep talkâ€ťâ€”and I preferred to swim in the deep end of the pool. When conversations lacked emotional or intellectual gravitas, I felt a lingering emptiness, as if the connection was somehow incomplete. I didnâ€™t realize that my mental labels were actually what was keeping me separate from othersâ€”not the interactions themselves.
Somewhere along the way, my experience began to change.Â Â The labels of what was “surfaceâ€ť and what was â€śdeepâ€ť fell away. In their place arose the simplest desire: to appreciate whoever is in front of me exactly as they are. To see them instead of waiting for them to acknowledge me. To hear what they have to say instead of straining to be understood. To follow their train of thought rather than constantly steering them toward mine.
Dropping my personal agenda worked wonders for connecting naturally with the people around me. Now I find that even â€śsmall talkâ€ť topics (e.g., the weather, what you did last night, the latest movie in town) are gateways to understanding. Our values, joys, burdens, and hopes reveal themselves one snippet at a time when we listen attentively and also share ourselves spontaneously. And sometimes words arenâ€™t even necessary. A few weeks ago I met a woman who spoke German and Spanish, neither of which I speak conversationally. Yet there was a moment in which I felt completely connected to her. A meeting of the eyes, followed by a quick smile, acknowledged our shared humanity as solidly as if we had just concluded an hour-long conversation.
There are infinite ways to connect meaningfully with others. The depth of connection is not only measured by the words we exchange or by the duration of our contact. Rather, it emerges from our willingness to release the judgments and labels that would form invisible barriers, and the ability to appreciate one another in present time.