Full and complete upfront disclosure here: Below is a list of things that I wished people (including me) talked about more and parenthetically other things I wish that people (also including me!) talked about less or maybe just not as much. I fully admit that I talk about those other parenthetical things, and I certainly do not judge others for talking about those same things. Yet still, I'm hopeful we can at least steer some conversations in the other direction. Maybe you do too. Maybe you don't. That's OK, too. Either way, we are good.
1. Ideas (Not Just Things)
Where would we be without ideas? I can't even imagine. Every great inventor, philosopher and leader had an idea and discussed that idea with someone else and then someone else. These ideas brought us into the modern world -- to where we are today. It's not just those big ideas I want to hear more about, it's also the little ones. Some of my very favorite family dinner conversations have been about an idea that was discussed in my children's classrooms (who do you think was our best president and why?) or a theory about professional sports (should they count instant replay when making a call in that game?) My favorite visits with friends involve conversations about new ideas they've come up with -- like for a new business venture or a realization about a loved one or a relationship. These ideas keep the conversations interesting. They make me crave more.
Things are great, too. My friends and I certainly have conversations about a cute sweater or a pretty shade of lip gloss and my kids have told me many times about things that other kids in school have. Sometimes these are the same things that my kids want. But after a while, these things, they get old -- toys break, lip gloss fades and sweaters pill. Ideas, though, they never really get old -- to me, at least.
2. Our Own Failures (Not Just Our Successes)
Failures cover a broad range of subjects in my book, including and certainly not limited to rejections; not always getting what you want; messing up; tripping; putting your foot in your mouth and more. I always feel better when I tell others (friends, family and even colleagues) about my own failures. Like the time I was the only kid in my big extended family not picked for the softball team; when I broke my arm tripping over a mat during gymnastics; the time my SAT scores went down after I took an SAT course; when I woke up in the middle of the night to see if I got accepted into graduate school only to discover that I got rejected; when an editor yelled at me and told me I didn't understand journalism and this list goes on. This is where the meat is. These are the "good dinner party conversations," as my mother used to call them. I think failures are interesting. I enjoy hearing about other people's mishaps. Not so I can make fun of them or look down on them, but because failures (no matter how big or small) are what make us human and help us learn and grow.
As an author and freelance writer, I feel like I've spent a lot of time most recently talking about my success and tooting my own horn. That's OK. It's part of the job. It sells books. Even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable doing this, talking about my success does still make me feel good. Success is great. It's something to aspire to, to admire in other people and to pat yourself on the back for achieving every once in a while. I enjoy hearing about other people's success too. Yet still, I do believe that the real successes and the really good stuff stems from all those failures.
3. Our Imperfect Children (Not Just Our Perfect Children)
As a parent in this crazy age of being a parent, I had to include this one. Newsflash to every parent out there (that includes me): Our children are not perfect. They are great, fun, creative, smart, athletic and adorable, but you know what? They are also challenging, winey and exhausting. They talk back, they get in trouble and they make mistakes. At least mine do, and I think a lot of other people's do too. Not all the time, but they do. I really learn the most from the conversations I have with other parents about the struggles that our kids go through understanding that not everything works out for them perfectly (see our own failures above). I feel better after discussing some of the missteps our children take with other parents. I laugh about some of that stuff and take a way a lot from those conversations. Those are the good conversations. I want more of those.
Who wants to hear about how little Tommy scored all the goals in the game or how Suzie got straight "A's" in every subject? I don't! Do you? Perfect children are boring (and I'm not being harsh in saying that), because perfect children don't exist. They are a made-up ideal created by parents. Just as in the case of our own successes, I think it's more than OK to talk about your own children's successes and accomplishments (again, however big or small), but I do believe that the conversation goes to some really good places when we admit that the concept of perfect children is really just an illusion.
4. Being Amazed (Not Just Being Annoyed)
Life is amazing, isn't it? I think back to a comedian I once heard talk about how he is sick of people complaining about their flights being delayed. He went on to explain that people should stop complaining about delayed flights and instead be truly amazed that they are actually sitting in a relatively comfortable seat in an aircraft 30,000 feet above the ground that can get them across the country in five hours. That is amazing! Isn't it? I am amazed at so many things: That Google Maps always knows where I am; that when my kids were born, they had 10 fingers and 10 toes each; that even after the longest and nastiest of storms, the sun comes out again. I guess this goes along the lines of being grateful for what you have and not wishing you had something more. Let's talk about that kind of stuff.
And by the same token, let's try and be annoyed less. I know, I know. Sometimes people and situations are annoying. Some things that annoy me are long slow moving lines; when people talk during the movies and when people talk on their cellphones very loudly on a train. But you know what? That happens. Let's try and let that go and stop talking about how annoying those things are. Put it down in the it just happens column and think more about all that amazing stuff out there.
5. Mental illness
I am a big believer that mental illness should be talked about more. And not just under the guises of "mental illness should be talked about more." Talk about it! Put it out there. I care about people who have suffered from mental illness and when they were suffering, I suffered too. When I started to talk about it in specifics to friends and colleagues, I was so pleasantly surprised with the reactions that I received. So many other people also had loved ones suffering from mental illness, or they themselves had at one point or another. I still don't get what's so taboo to talk about. Mental illness is real. It affects real people every day and it's debilitating. It needs to be talked about and treated in the same manner that physical illness is. Someone once explained to me that telling a depressed person to cheer up is like telling a blind person to see. That hit home for me. Let's talk about it more.
That said, I believe physical illness should be talked about too. Talking about my mother's cancer after losing her was one of the best things I did. It helped me in my grief and others who were battling the disease. I just bring it up so say that I wish we could talk about mental illness as much as we so about physical illness and feel comfortable talking about it. I hope we are getting there.
I don't want to control all of the conversations in the world, I'd just like shift them a bit. Do you? If so, let's talk.