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It Gets Easier: The Examined Life Conference 2018, Day 3

On the last day of The Examined Life Conference, presenters and MDs challenged me to keep going and to keep improving.

In the morning, Dr. Ann Green and Dr. Edward Fristrom lead a workshop highlighting their work with pre-med students. Their work centers around listening and narrative skills. This seems essential, but it’s even more important when dealing with younger students who tend to save the world first and ask questions later.

The exercise was intensely simple. We paired off. One of us looked the other in the eye and listened for 60 seconds. The other had to talk about a topic for 60 seconds, uninterrupted. The listener couldn’t nod or “Uh-huh” the speaker. The speaker had to keep talking uninterrupted.

It’s shocking how hard that is, to fill 60 seconds on any given topic with no confirmation or interruptions. It’s shocking how hard it is to give someone no conscious feedback.

We did this a total of 7 times.

The very first time I was the speaker. I had difficulty filling the time allowed, and started rambling. After time was called, my partner clutched her neck and massaged it: “It’s so difficult not to nod in agreement!”

This radical listening got easier. It was never simple, but by the 7th minute, we were all more able to actively, fully listen. This wasn’t only a listening exercise, though. I found that after about 30 seconds on any one topic, my mind had to frantically look for other things related to the topic to fill the time. That’s when I started drawing conclusions and finding new connections between things I’ve already said hundreds of times.

This is similar to an element of a role-play exercise Dr. Hilton Koppe had us do on Day 1, but extended more than 10 times longer.

The other encouraging talk of the day was on media and medicine from Dr. Carolyn Chan, Dr. Emily Nosova, and Dr. W. Gina Pang. The three presenters met when they were working in an ABC newsroom as medical consultants. They taught the group about speaking and writing for a media audience.

When it comes to writing and speaking, their main point was that a journalistic presentation focuses on the main point first, then some supporting big ideas, then lesser ideas, until the details at the end are the supporting quotes and the less important details.

This is in contrast to the hamburger essay (main idea, three supporting ideas, concluding/summarizing idea) we all learned in middle school. The most oddly uncomfortable challenge they gave was not to end popular articles, etc., with a concluding sentence. From an academic and narrative writer’s perspective, it feels like the writing is left dangling. From a reader’s position, if the piece is well-written, a conclusion doesn’t add much. Their point makes perfect sense, and even though it’s against what I’ve done in the past, I suppose it’ll get easier.