Real Talk: Less Manners, More Genuine Dialogue

BY KACIE GROSSMEIER

Growing up, we are taught to use our manners. We learn to follow the golden rules: mind your P’s and Q’s and be polite, don’t offend the other person you’re talking to, be careful with your words because once said, you can’t take them back.

For the most part, these are great concepts to learn and embrace. Noone really likes the person who is blunt and brutally honest all the time. Having a nice round of polite small talk can go a long way, like when landing a job out of college, but there is a time and place for everything.

Right now, I’m not talking about polite chitchat. I’m talking about real dialogue, the kind that challenges us to look inside and around us and discuss the way things are and how they should be. What happens to manners then?

They get in the way. I know we like to think we can have a conversation about race or religion or government in open and honest ways, but can we really? I don’t think so. In fact, I know so.

I’ve been in rooms where mannered discussions take place and I’ve been a quiet and polite participant. But internally, I am confused and afraid. Confused because it’s a topic I know very little about and afraid because if I say something that comes out as ignorant people might get mad at me or judge me instead of converse with me and teach me a thing or two. I know I’m not the only one who has felt this way. So how is this a good conversation? It isn’t.

We focus so much on being perceived as polite and well mannered that we deny ourselves the opportunity to have a raw, genuine discussion on anything. Think about it. When was the last time you had a brutally honest conversation with someone where you revealed the confusion, twisted ideas, misunderstandings or potentially controversial opinions you held that wasn’t with your roommate at 2 a.m. and you were both drunk? You know those conversations. They are great. So why are we so afraid to have them more often? Why not, say, in the classroom, when we are totally sober?

I think there is a lack of genuine dialogue on campus. The type of dialogue that requires us to set our manners aside and just get real and talk. How can we ever teach each other about equality, peace and understanding if we are too afraid we might hurt each other’s feelings?

When we don’t have the outlets for these real conversations, our ideas of the world are left to fester inside us. If they’re glorified ideas, they can lead to a skewed perception on the ongoing struggles of those around us. If they’re disturbed ideas, they can end up boiling over in forms of hate speech or actual acts of hate.

When these outbursts do occur, people with justice-seeking hearts have to word themselves very carefully. They don’t want to offend the person with whom they disagree, but still want to make a point, but not seem too overbearing.

This is ridiculous. If you think someone is wrong, tell them. Then back up your statement with all the valid points you have. Then they can react and say which points they find hard to believe. Then you have a real discussion on it.

We make genuine dialogue harder than it needs to be. There is nothing wrong with setting our manners (and pride) aside and just being real.

Disclaimer: this is not to say we should approach these conversations without tact. We still need to respect our partners in dialogue. But respect is different than the golden rules of manners. Respect is essential no matter what, but it should not and cannot prevent honest ideas and emotions from being expressed. Otherwise, it is not just respect we are enacting but rather self-censorship.

Honest and open dialogue is not easy, but it is necessary. I challenge the campus community to set manners aside and have real conversations. Don’t be afraid to express confusion or misunderstanding or present a counterpoint. Be open to change and willing to learn from one another.

We are lucky enough to attend a liberal arts college with faculty, students and organizations that are ready and willing to have genuine conversation.

Let’s talk.

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