This weekend, I visited some family friends. We discussed many things during my visit, conversing over meals and a puzzle and a campfire. A few times, we discussed my parents. It was neat to hear how our friends’ saw and understood my parents—which characteristics stick out, what stories they tell, what perspectives they share. I also shared stories about my grandparents.
Whether talking about my parents or my grandparents, discussing them gave me a chance to reflect on my relationship with them, on my understanding of them, and so on. From our friends’ questions and their reactions, I remembered new stories or details, deepening my appreciation.
Conversation builds understanding. Sharing and speaking with somebody else forces us to package our thoughts, to offer something of a narrative. Discussing the same subject with different people amplifies this effect: by tailoring our narrative to each audience, we can further nuance our thinking.
In How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell describes how social media companies discourage (and scorn) this essential process of nuancing thought:
For a brand as for a public figure—which, as we now know, any Twitter user can accidentally become overnight—change, ambiguity, and contradiction are anathema. “You have one identity,” Mark Zuckerberg famously said. “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” He added that “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” Imagine what Audre Lorde, with all her different selves, would have to say to him.
Recounting multiple narratives about a single subject, we clarify our own perspective. Conversing, we can challenge our thoughts further—we see each subject through our audience’s eyes, slightly shifting our stance each time. And because a conversation is an exchange, we build understanding.
All the best for the week ahead! Here’s to seeking ever nuanced perspectives.