Monologuing and the Mirage of the Nonversation

“Mr. Kennedy likes to hear himself talk.” To wind down our Saturday night, Sally and I put a DVD in and watched an episode of “Little House on the Prairie.” Remember Charles and Carolyn Ingalls? Little Laura, Mary, and Carrie? We’ve recently found renewed interest in the simplicity and wholesomeness of some old TV series. Each episode told a story and shared numerous lessons of life. Little House on the Prairie conveyed a particularly beautiful moral innocence in the context of pretty heavy life struggles.

Last night’s episode centered on an argument among Walnut Grove residents over the addition of a bell to their little country church. As things heated up, the debate turned into a shouting match and created a rift in the community. The example was simple and really captured the essence of the breakdown in such disagreements as emotions escalate and the rational gives way to the hysterical. In Mr. Kennedy’s case, the authoritarian finality of “I’ve made my decision and that’s final” ended all dialogue.

“You sly dog! You got me monologuing!” So says Syndrome in 2004’s The Incredibles, an animated movie about former super-heroes relegated to the ordinary of domestic life suddenly pulled into the machinations of a self-made super villain. In this scene, Mr. Incredible, captured by Syndrome, delays his fate by getting the villain distracted in bragging about his brilliant plan to conquer the world.

We all get caught up in our own form of monologuing from time to time and we’ve got all sorts of idioms to capture its essence: getting on one’s soapbox, blowing hot air, blathering, preaching, pontificating, sermonizing, lecturing…you get the point. The monologue is a one way street with little or no room for listening. I’ve got a message and here it comes. Kind of like a blog post.

There is, of course, a place for delivering a message, making a point, sharing an insight, or spurring thought. I, for one, am very grateful for those who bear with me each week in the pursuit of the profound, or the simply curious.

Looking around, it just feels like we’ve lost something.

Not so long ago, I found myself part of a contentious business conversation in which we were presented with the other party’s conclusions and asked a question. As we started to respond, I realized that the question was actually rhetorical – it was not meant to be answered but was actually an accusation. We were not in a conversation, we were in a negotiation.

A friend of mine likes to use the expression “nonversation” in his writing to describe much of the pointless monologuing happening across the headlines of our news cycles. His point: we’re recycling the same tired messaging and pointless positioning toward no particular end. I might also describe this as “megaphoning” but I think we’ve introduced enough word creations for one post. The point is that there is a lot of nonversation happening: in our headlines, in our meetings, and in our “conversations.”

I was recently approached to be a speaker at an event. Asked about topics, I shared a few ideas. “Looks like you’ve got some good content. However, I can’t tell by your titles what you’re advocating.”

And there is it is: what are you advocating? What’s your point and what’s lying behind it? The massive volume of headlines, posts, Tweets (do we call them X’s now?), videos, and podcasts makes it increasingly difficult to get the point. What are we advocating? We are consuming incredible volumes of content but so much still ends in the nonversation: pointless monologuing to no particular end. Are we intentionally trying to distract or have we lost the ability to articulate a clear thought, a moving argument, novel idea, or a prompt for a discussion?

Am I just monologuing or is there a point? What am I advocating? In our days of hyper-content, hyper-speed, and hyper-agendas, I think there is a message in the pace and simplicity of Little House on the Prairie. We can’t hear when we’re talking and no one is moved in a monologue, at least not for long. Hearts and minds are captured in the interaction. Souls are won in the sincerity. Things are changed through action, and big things are changed together.

Perhaps we can start by stopping. Let’s dial the monologues back and look for real conversation. Let’s shelve the rhetorical question for a bit, pause, and listen for a real answer. Let’s work to care enough that we might seek to understand and then to be understood. Let’s take a break from accusing long enough that we might be convicted of our own part in the disconnect, disagreement, dissatisfaction, disregard, and disrespect.

Here, we might find humility enough to see something other than our own point.

  • Trish+Berry

    So true. Thanks for the reminder.

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