Today I watched an episode of the television show Friends, in which during an alternate universe scene, one of the characters (Pheobe) has a heart attack. Upon returning to work, Pheobe is told that she is fired, and while she is having a second heart attack due to the stress of the news, a co-worker walks by. As she passes she asks Pheobe, “Hey, how are you doing?” Pheobe basically responds, “I’m fired and I’m having a heart attack.” The co-worker, completely ignoring Pheobe’s response says, “Well, glad to have you back,” and continues on her way.
The scene is striking because it is true. Often in our own routines, and wrapped in our own multi-tasking, we find ourselves callous to the reality of those around us. We listen, but only to gain the pertinent information to the tasks we are performing. Sure, this is often a necessary function of working together and seems quite logical, but does this not irk us within when someone else does this to us individually? What does this look like? It is a blank stare, only gazing long enough to make brief eye contact, the stare moves beyond every chance it gets, because the “listener” is not really with us. Only one of the ears is on us, the other is on the potential of the next conversation. What does this feel like? It makes us feel as if we are not very important to the one “listening” and causes a rift slowly over time, if quality listening and real affection do not come in time during the relationship. We do not like to be half listened to because it makes us feel less human. We become nothing but a source of information, and the relationship potential becomes secondary to the functional. This leads to burn out, and loss of quality workers over time. Has anyone ever done this to you in the office? Have you ever realized that someone is not valuing the moment they have with you? We all do it from time to time to others, but how can we guard against this? How can we make sure to have Real Conversations and affirm the humanity of those we work and are in contact with regularly?
Like many disciplines, the first step is to Always Be AWARE. Being aware of how you are treating others, means that you are constantly monitoring your eye contact and ensuring that you are not looking around ready for the next conversation should it occur. Being aware means keeping both ears focused on the one speaker, comprehending the depth of the message, and not just the outline, or the surface level data of the conversation. Being aware means giving feedback that shows you are interacting with what is being presented to you and that you understand the wholeness of it. When someone says, “I hope you are doing well, I’ve been praying for you,” you do not reply, “Good, you?” and move on, but rather something like, “I am well, I appreciate your prayers.” Or if you meet with a co-worker/minister who tells you of a great story that happened at the fellowship event the night previous, you do not say, “Oh, yeah. Cool. Did you finish the research?” but rather, you affirm that their celebration is worthwhile, and celebrate with them for a moment. This awareness may make getting business done a bit more clunky and cumbersome, but if this personal tact is not excessive, it can flesh out the often impersonal office work and give people a place that their work has meaning, and where they feel that they are more than just means to an end. They become more human in the midst of their work.
This not only applies to the work place, but to every conversation we have with friends and family. Whenever something becomes familiar, we can make if a routine, and the relationship can become less valuable to us. By being aware of every relationship in every conversation we hold ourselves accountable to the image of God in every person (imago dei; Gen. 1:26, 5:1, 5:3). And whether we like those around us or not, we are to give each person respect as fellow creatures, and love each other as those who have been created by God, as those who have been given an opportunity to love one another (1 John 4:7) in greater ways each day. Start today, and decide to have Real Conversations with each person you meet today. Meet the challenge, and your life will certainly be enriched, and perhaps more blessed than before.