The Art of Conversation

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The Art of Conversation

I am typ­ing at top speed with a dead­line loom­ing, and I’m sure to be late (sorry, Pete). The work­day ran long. My day job’s cur­rent assign­ment has me watch­ing state leg­isla­tive action, and today kicked off the 2018 season.

The State House hall­ways were full of cit­i­zens sport­ing but­tons and scarves embla­zoned with sym­bols of this or that bill, thumbs up or thumbs down. An impromptu press con­fer­ence about a par­tic­u­lar bill tem­porar­ily blocked access to one hall. Twit­ter was ablaze with coor­di­nated tar­geted mes­sages on var­i­ous mea­sures. Typ­i­cal stuff, on a day with lots of bills up for votes.

It made for great press, and it all served the long-​term goal of influ­enc­ing pub­lic opin­ion. What it didn’t do, as far as I could tell, was swing a sin­gle vote on the most con­tro­ver­sial bills.

That work had been done ear­lier, in one-​on-​one con­ver­sa­tions with those rep­re­sen­ta­tives who were cheer­fully try­ing to work their way through the crowd to their seats. This is how things are done close to home.

Con­ver­sa­tions with­out cam­eras, with no social media posts at stake, one neigh­bor to another. As occu­pied with pol­i­tics as I am, I can’t afford to for­get how impor­tant those con­ver­sa­tions are.

Why be con­cerned with how things are done on the local or state level? Isn’t that lit­tle league stuff? Not to me.

For one thing, these state leg­is­la­tors make up the bench from which par­ties draw can­di­dates for big­ger if not bet­ter offices. The more one-​on-​one con­ver­sa­tions a leg­is­la­tor has, the greater the legislator’s sense of account­abil­ity to the peo­ple who’ve been talk­ing with him. Pro­fes­sional lob­by­ists know all about that. Smart vot­ers know it, too.

For another, we need the prac­tice. I know I do. I tend to resort to social media even for mes­sages to state rep­re­sen­ta­tives. That’s not the most effec­tive way for me to do my job as a con­stituent. For that, I need face-​to-​face con­ver­sa­tion, or even a brief phone call (remem­ber those?), with the peo­ple who claim to rep­re­sent me at the State House.

When a fam­ily has a story about how a bill would affect them, they use media appear­ances to share that story. That helps shape the envi­ron­ment within which a vote will be cast. If they really want to lock down a par­tic­u­lar vote, though, they’ll have a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions with a leg­is­la­tor, with­out cam­eras or mics in the room.

For the two bills with which I was most con­cerned today, peo­ple on all sides worked relent­lessly on such old-​fashioned com­mu­ni­ca­tion, as well as on social media, right up to the minute the votes were cast. The same-​day work was important.

And yet it wasn’t as impor­tant as the low-​key con­ver­sa­tions that started back when the bills were intro­duced (and even ear­lier). Today’s votes reflected rela­tion­ships built long ago. Those rela­tion­ships started with conversations.

It may sound odd for a key­board war­rior to admit, but I’m glad con­ver­sa­tion still counts.

Ellen Kolb writes about the life issues and New Hamp­shire pol­i­tics at ellenkolb​.com and leav​en​forth​e​loaf​.com. You can sup­port Da Tech Guy’s Mag­nif­i­cent Writ­ers by hit­ting Da Tip Jar. Thank you!

I am typing at top speed with a deadline looming, and I’m sure to be late (sorry, Pete). The workday ran long. My day job’s current assignment has me watching state legislative action, and today kicked off the 2018 season.

The State House hallways were full of citizens sporting buttons and scarves emblazoned with symbols of this or that bill, thumbs up or thumbs down. An impromptu press conference about a particular bill temporarily blocked access to one hall. Twitter was ablaze with coordinated targeted messages on various measures. Typical stuff, on a day with lots of bills up for votes.

It made for great press, and it all served the long-term goal of influencing public opinion. What it didn’t do, as far as I could tell, was swing a single vote on the most controversial bills.

That work had been done earlier, in one-on-one conversations with those representatives who were cheerfully trying to work their way through the crowd to their seats. This is how things are done close to home.

Conversations without cameras, with no social media posts at stake, one neighbor to another. As occupied with politics as I am, I can’t afford to forget how important those conversations are.

Why be concerned with how things are done on the local or state level? Isn’t that little league stuff? Not to me.

For one thing, these state legislators make up the bench from which parties draw candidates for bigger if not better offices. The more one-on-one conversations a legislator has, the greater the legislator’s sense of accountability to the people who’ve been talking with him. Professional lobbyists know all about that. Smart voters know it, too.

For another, we need the practice. I know I do. I tend to resort to social media even for messages to state representatives. That’s not the most effective way for me to do my job as a constituent. For that, I need face-to-face conversation, or even a brief phone call (remember those?), with the people who claim to represent me at the State House.

When a family has a story about how a bill would affect them, they use media appearances to share that story. That helps shape the environment within which a vote will be cast. If they really want to lock down a particular vote, though, they’ll have a private conversations with a legislator, without cameras or mics in the room.

For the two bills with which I was most concerned today, people on all sides worked relentlessly on such old-fashioned communication, as well as on social media, right up to the minute the votes were cast. The same-day work was important.

And yet it wasn’t as important as the low-key conversations that started back when the bills were introduced (and even earlier). Today’s votes reflected relationships built long ago. Those relationships started with conversations.

It may sound odd for a keyboard warrior to admit, but I’m glad conversation still counts.

Ellen Kolb writes about the life issues and New Hampshire politics at ellenkolb.com and leavenfortheloaf.com. You can support Da Tech Guy’s Magnificent Writers by hitting Da Tip Jar. Thank you!