Keeping the Faith

Fit for Conversation

Gym for me looks like this…

Lycra on, shoes on, grab drink bottle, towel.

Buckle kids in car, drive fast, not too fast, park, unbuckle.

Run, one on hip, other dangling on arm, through doors, hello, recite membership number.

Childcare, sign-in, kiss, close kiddy gate.

Late, sorry to instructor, find cross-trainer, calm heartbeat.

Move as instructed, when instructed, as fast as instructed, silently, watching clock on wall, counting down.

Leave.

(Repeat twice a week.)

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So you can appreciate my shock when veteran gym instructor Jodie gave her Monday and Friday classes a good old kick up the behind – no push-ups involved. She did it like this: she made us talk. To each other. It’s been happening for weeks now.

Every class, she rattles our phobia of mingling with other people by giving us five questions to ask – and remember – of the people on our left and right. She tests us at the end, so participation refusal would be embarrassing. Not an option.

Between the usual fitness directions of “On your toes!”, “Activate!” and “Drop!” you will hear us asking, “If you could be any insect, what would you be?”

Which is why, on that day, if you were a fly on the wall you would have felt kin with the dragonflies, ladybugs and stick insects in the room. You have no idea!

Jodie, you’re one of a kind.

Suddenly, I know a lot of people at the gym. Or at least, I see Jacinta and remember that she’d like to live in Canada, has five chooks and a dog, Thai is her favourite food and if she could have a cuppa with anyone, it’d be Audrey Hepburn.

We smile, greet each other by name.

Sure, fitness instructor Jodie makes me feel like a kid at school again, but she has my blessing if that’s what it takes to change culture – from introspection to community.

Communication is fast becoming something detached from reality thanks to all the usual culprits: social media, messaging apps, email and so on. Brilliant supports to communication, but not so great as replacements to your traditional, face-to-face, garden-variety dialogue.

Like any dormant skillset, it gets rusty through misuse or lack of use.

I know I’ve needed a refresher every so often on something as basic as holding a conversation with someone new.

There’s a saying that goes:

“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.”

Truth. So, I endeavour to:

Listen first.

Ask questions.

Offer my own stories last.

And remember the details, so I can demonstrate genuine interest and concern next time we meet (yes, that includes their name).

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” is part of the blueprint for conversation that the Bible offers in James 1:19.

We all know what it’s like talking to brick-wall people, being the constant question-asker. I also know some amazing conversation-makers who ferret for deeper issues connected with the proffered surface stories, demonstrating such genuine interest in what is shared.

It’s certainly an art, one worth our mastering when you consider the rates of depression. One in six people will experience depression in their lives. One in three people will experience anxiety. Seven Australians take their own lives every day. I know these startling figures are part of the reason why Jodie at the gym is encouraging us to exercise our ears and vocal cords as much as our glutes and cores.

You just never know when the loving gift of time and listening ear can tug a person away from the edge of something unmentionable.

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First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday October 5, 2015.

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7 Comments

  1. Petrus says

    Really appreciate your pieces Claire. It must be hard at times when people go on the attack. Keep up the insightful and challenging writing! So great that it’s published in a newspaper in Tassie too!

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