A good conversation is like… two artists who are supposed to create one picture together, so they blend paints, offer unique touches, and work to represent both artists together.
A bad conversation is like… two artists who are supposed to create one picture together, but at least one of whom only cares about painting her own.
So here’s how the metaphor looks in my head when a conversation goes badly:
Two artists, quite different, sit on either side of a blank canvas.
Paint pots sit expectantly beside each artist.
One artist drops an opening dash of paint onto the white space and, with determination, begins creating an image that has been in her mind all day long. “Let’s see, here, I wanted some daisies here, some Black-eyed-Susans there; some tiny little houses in the distance; a large sweeping meadow boarded in peonies…”
The other artist watches. Maybe she “ooo’s”; maybe she “ah’s”. But as time ticks on, she glances at her own paints to make sure they are not drying out.
Artist #1 finally remembers that this is to be a joint project, so she asks for Artist #2 to add some orange.
Artist #2, enthused about this opportunity to participate, mixes up the perfect autumn orange to accent some of the peonies. She carefully adds a tiny accent to one flower.
Artist #1 is quite satisfied with the contribution. (It took long enough, and besides that shade of orange reminds her of all of the orange she wanted to add!)
So, there she is sweeping large brush strokes of green and gold. She looks over the painting and remembers, Oh, yes, I remember now, I did have something else I needed from Artist #2. “Do you have any blue?”
Ooo, a question, a question for me! Artist #2 readies her paintbrush. She adds a bit of blue to the sky, anticipating the swirl of blues, whites, and grays she’ll add to beautify the sky.
“That’s good.” replies Artist #1, satisfied with the blue blop and failing to wonder if Artist #2 has more to offer.
So, our dear Artist #2 finishes the sky with her own paints. Her own technique. Her own image.
Artist #1 walks away feeling quite happy that she got her image out on paper.
Artist #2? Well, she’s starting to wonder if she’s an artist at all.
I’ve been a bad conversationalist many times. Laziness, lack of creativity, and exhaustion have proved me to be a bail-out artist who doesn’t add much. Enthusiasm, selfishness, and a soap-box have proved me to be the “Artist #1 paint-hog” who adds too much.
But don’t we all love when we strike that unspoken agreement with someone so that we each contribute, wonder, and develop within the other person’s art until we’ve created a masterpiece together?
Don’t we love that mutual agreement of getting up from opposite sides of the canvas to sit side-by-side so that we can see from the same angle?
Isn’t it so satisfying to enter someone else’s story and help them to develop it, untangle it, and work it out completely? Ah, the reward of asking good questions – the ageless who?, what?, where?, when?, how? – so that, if she wants to, Artist #2 is encouraged to keep on creating, too.
Isn’t it so satisfying when someone else enters our story and sharpens our techniques, asks for greater depth, and believes in our ability to feel valid emotions, express valuable thoughts, and to have hidden treasure that is worth digging for?
We both walk away from conversations like that feeling like masterpieces. Because, well, we helped to create one.