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The art of conversation

In a time when communication can’t rely on facial expressions because of masks, acts of kindness have become particularly important in showing our intentions with the people around us. One thing this crazy year has taught me is to live every day intentionally. We should live for the moments, but we should also live to be better each day. As a college freshman, living in the residence halls should’ve been a time to mingle with my neighbors, but the pandemic has hindered me from making traditional connections. I see my neighbors maybe once a day with only an awkward glance instead of having the normal experience of bonding with them over being freshmen at a new school. I wish I had entered college knowing how to initiate conversations even if those I engaged with couldn’t see me smile.

When we think of conversation, we usually think of face-to-face, verbal communication, but there are five main types of communication: verbal, non-verbal, written, visual and listening. I argue the partnership of non-verbal communication and listening is more important for forming strong relationships than the partnership of verbal and written communication. When we think about first impressions, we are always told to present our best selves, which goes beyond the words that come out of our mouths. It’s about the way a person carries themselves and the way they walk, the words they say, the interpretations and meanings of those words. Listening cultivates relationships without inserting ourselves into the equation and is the best way to make others feel loved, heard and appreciated.

I scoured the archives of Netflix and recently fell upon a movie, “Before I Fall,” that is the epitome of living every day like it could potentially be the last.Essentially, after having an accident, the main character has the opportunity to change her fate or the fate of those around her by redoing a day. The most impactful message of the movie is to live every day with as much love as possible, and, in order to do that, sometimes you have to just listen and learn. Don’t be afraid to see people for who they are instead of who you are told to believe they are. Quarantine gave us the opportunity to spend some much-needed time in our own heads because before we can love others, we have to love ourselves. I had the opportunity to speak to myself and consequently learn more about who I am during lockdown, and these will forever be my favorite conversations.

Conversation is not about the words we say, and if I have learned anything from being isolated with myself, true conversation is about our intentions and our meanings behind our words. More than anything, we should focus on bettering our actions, taking the little steps to make tomorrow memorable for someone else. What I learned from “Before I Fall” is, unlike the main character, we can’t redo today like the character does and sacrifice so someone else can thrive. Instead, we can make little sacrifices, holding the door, saying hello, asking meaningful questions and, easiest of all, being attentive when we communicate. These little actions have led me to meet some of the most amazing people just from opening a door. 

MiC Columnist Simone Roberts can be contacted at sirobert@umich.edu.