This article was originally published in the April 2016 issue of the Singapore American Newspaper.
In 2013, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Paul Salopek began a seven year walk that will take him from the birthplace of humanity in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia, across Asia, up through Russia, across to Alaska (by boat) and down the length of the Americas. It’s dubbed the “Out of Eden Walk”. In introducing this epic walk in the January 2013 edition of National Geographic, Salopek said: “We’ve been wired by natural selection to absorb meaning from our days at the loose-limbed gait of three miles an hour.” At the time of this writing, he’s in Azerbaijan and moving East, slowly.
To absorb meaning is an interesting way of thinking about the day. It has a very different agenda than how we usually consider our past twenty-four hours. We’re likely to consume (media), complete (projects) or accomplish (tasks), but rarely will we consider or simply experience a moment. Our task-oriented focus permeates how we communicate with those we love, too. Whether it’s with our kids or our partner, much of our communication is about meeting goals. That’s not a bad thing, quite the opposite. It’s how homework gets done, trips are planned and appointments kept. However, open discussions and heart-to-heart conversations need a different form of communication.
You already have a good idea of how your family members communicate. Think about your best recent conversations with each one. Was it while driving in the car on your way to a soccer game? Sitting together at a café on a Saturday morning? Right before bed-time? While going for a walk in the park? I’m going to guess that for a whole host of reasons (heat, humidity, rain, haze), a walk in a Singapore park isn’t at the top of many people’s lists. But I’d like you to consider adding it to your repertoire as a way to change how you communicate.
By taking a conversation outside and changing our regular environment, we break normal mental patterns, leaving us more receptive and attentive. If we both agree to leave our devices behind, distractions are eliminated as we stroll, and the act of walking comes into its own. A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology shared that that “simple and robust” act of walking “opens up the free flow of ideas” and increases creativity (Oppezzo and Schwartz). For many of us, talking in parallel is less threatening than communication that involves face-to-face eye contact, too, so having a discussion while walking can allow us to share more freely.
This isn’t to say that every conversation you have while walking will lead new connections and an increased closeness with your loved ones -- but it can help. So the next time you’re faced with a difficult decision or need to have an awkward conversation, take it outside. See how a three-mile an hour gait allows you to absorb meaning from the moment.
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