As the fall months come back around, I am already anticipating the awful ice breakers professors will submit me and my fellow students to. In this anticipation, I have been reminiscing on my past experiences. There are the times when the professor asks for an interesting fact about you and you don’t really find yourself that interesting or the incredibly awkward moment when the professor and student are from the same home town and proceed to spend the next fifteen minutes talking about their favorite small town attractions. One question that will probably always haunt me is, “What is your favorite hobby?”. My answer never changes: I enjoy talking to people. The confused looks and hesitated affirmation by the professor never cease to make me feel incredibly uncomfortable. But sincerely, talking to others is my favorite hobby. It is in the moments when intellects and hearts collide in conversation to create a wonderful complementarity of knowledge and bears a fruitful conversation that I find myself enjoying life the most. It is the time when another bears something on their heart and you can stand in solidarity with them. As great as some of the conversations I have had are, there are others that simply make me cringe.
Cringe-worthy conversations take place all the time. There are those that linger late into the night hours, especially over text. In abandoning reverence, we begin to talk about matters that are often misplaced due to their intimate nature. Another facet of these cringe-worthy conversations are those that are simply crass. The times when the body of another is looked upon as an object for manipulation and joked about as such. Still yet, there are those times when someone bears the deepest parts of their heart to you but you really do not know them all that well. The common denominator among all of these cringe-worthy conversations is that reverence is abandoned for the sake of vulnerability.
I hope to be clear in saying that vulnerability is not the problem. Vulnerability is beautiful and often incredibly virtuous. The gift of one’s heart to another is one to be treasured. Hildebrand would agree. In the LifeGuide, he says, “But a true personality is never solitary in the sense of being isolated from others in the depths” (50). Conversation has the ability to free man from his egoism by listening and responding to others. Yet, our conversation can only have this ability if we allow what constitutes it to have this incredible component of gift, if we allow our words to transcend our own self.
Here’s a short story: Mieczyslaw Kotlarczyk, Karol Wojtyla, and others created a vision for theater that they called “The Theater of the Living Word”, or also known as the “Rhapsodic Theater”. They used their sparse staging of a simple piano and no props to exemplify the power of word. What does not seem like much had the goal according to Kotlarczyk of, “protest against the extermination of the Polish nation’s culture on it own soil, a form of underground resistance movement against the Nazi occupation” (6). In allowing word to be the dictator of the play rather than stage scenery and props, the themes of the play were able to be more transcendental and universal. According to Boleslaw Taborski in his introduction to “The Collected Plays and Writings on Theater: Karol Wojtyla”, in these plays “word, suitably employed transmits thought” (11). Thought, coming from the very inner life of man, is a great gift when shared with others because in a way it is sharing of oneself. Why do I share this with you? Because these men used word to achieve one of the greatest goods of man: freedom. The transcendental truth of man is able to be shown while at the same time affirming the dignity of man in his current state by Wojtyla’s delving into the character’s inner life through the power of the “Theater of the Living Word”. These words that have this incredible power are the same words that we use in our daily conversations. What would the power of our conversations be if we allowed our words to have the weight Wojtyla did?
For me, I think often times I do not think about the fact that my words have such meaning. I forget my words bear reverence and this reverence has the power to give honor to what is beyond myself. I limit myself in conversations to describing what I am doing, the weather, and what food I am currently craving. I forget what Alice von Hildebrand says in “The Dark Night of the Body”, “Human language seeks ways of expressing those higher realities that are beyond our senses” (23). This is what the Rhapsodic theater was able to do: use word to transmit thought. This sharing of thought is so valuable because it allows us to fulfill ourselves in giving ourselves as a gift to another.
The problem is really the overarching lack of reverence. Alice von Hildebrand points out this very issue. In discussing how we speak of sexuality she says, “the sacredness of sex is so often addressed by using a vocabulary which makes it impossible to have the reverence called for. This is why people feel perfectly comfortable discussing personal and intimate matters in public- matters which, by their very nature, call for tremendous discretion” (18). It is not just how we speak but also how we listen. Alice von Hildebrand says, “all five senses should be given the seal of the supernatural” (89). This does not exclude our ears nor our lips.
This discretion spoken of by Alice von Hildebrand can be cultivated. I think the easiest way is by sharing with others your daily life and not just the “big” moments. This fosters an appreciation for the person and not a fascination with intimacy. In proceeding in conversation, one should remember “what is sacred must be approached with trembling reverence” (84). To talk about intimate matters in public places or among unacquainted persons is simply irreverent to the matter at hand. Reverence allows one's vision for the person to expand to see the other in the face of a culture obsessed with intimacy. Your heart deserves more than irreverence. Your experience deserves to be heard and cherished.