Archives for posts with tag: are you really listening? am I?

I dislike argument. There. I’ve said it.

One perspective of many.

One perspective of many.

I enjoy lively discourse. I embrace passionate discussion of individual view points. I cherish intellectual exchange, and sharing knowledge or perspective. I learn; I grow. Argument isn’t those things. Argument is a failed meeting of minds, in which individuals continue to insist on their own view, their own perspective, and fail to hear each other, seeking instead to persuade that their point is the correct understanding, and only that outcome will satisfy. Argument is often emotionally bullying, and more about intimidation and insistence, sometimes degenerating to insult, deceit, or emotional manipulation, to “win” the argument. No one wins, of course, and generally someone – often everyone – walks away feeling hurt, or misunderstood. Argument sucks, from my point of view, and I avoid it. I also have a brain injury that leaves me very vulnerable to being baited into an argument – being made entirely of human, this has made learning to disengage very valuable, and I continue to practice, with varying results. The verbs involved are those that make use of emotional intelligence, intent, free will, a sense of perspective, and a commitment to good emotional self-care; it’s a lot to juggle during an argument.  Once I realize I’ve been baited into an argument, I do my best to disengage graciously, and without malice or ill-intent. We’re all so very human… and some people actually like to argue; I’m just looking for the exit.

I'd rather love and be loved.

I’d rather love and be loved.

Last night I got baited into a political argument that at first glance looked more “discussion-worthy”, having been initiated by friends that I feel comfortable with and trust. Once I recognized I’d been drawn into an argument (with a commenting family member), I worked to extricate myself politely. This did not go as planned, and I became frustrated and emotional, and hung-up on some of the peculiar tactical linguistics in use.

I prefer authenticity over game-playing, and made a frank (and fairly vulnerable) statement that I was struggling with the conversation, possibly because my communication-style, and TBI, were making it hard to communicate easily, and that I was tired and not at my best. I expected, based on years of civil discourse with other human beings, that this would bring the conversation to a friendly, compassionate close, between equals – we’re family, so of course, we all have each others well-being and best interests mutually in mind… right? Nope. Not an ideal assumption, sadly; instead of support, I got a personal attack. It was weird, and frankly unacceptable. Rather like telling someone on crutches struggling to handle a door and some stairs simultaneously to “grow up” and “get over it”… instead of holding the damned door.  I was told by way of reply that I was “playing the victim”, and assorted such things. It was, from my perspective, hurtful, awkward, and… not something I personally care to foster in my own experience, certainly not from someone who says they care.

We’re still all human. All people. Each having our own experience. Each making our own way in the world without a map. My “Big 5” relationship values aren’t something I just say; they are how I build my relationships: Respect, Consideration, Compassion, Reciprocity, and Openness. An authentic statement of vulnerability given openly, met with something other than respect, consideration, or compassion, tells me something about the relationship in which the interaction occurs. If it occurs with a stranger, I just walk on. I don’t find it necessary to tolerate callousness or hurtfulness generally. When it occurs with a friend very dear to me on whom I can rely to be a good friend, clarifying questions seem appropriate (miscommunication is a thing that happens), but if it turns out I am incorrect about the quality of the friendship in the first place, and clarifying questions reveal that, I am inclined to walk on.

There is no requirement whatsoever that we maintain relationships with people who don’t treat us well. We choose our relationships. I experience no sense of obligation to invest in or maintain a relationship that doesn’t bring out my best qualities. Here’s something about me, though; I extend that to family, too. I pretty much always have – I grew up in a world where family was no more to be trusted than any other human beings, and possibly less so. Much less. I don’t have “family loyalty” hard-wired into my thinking, because for most of my life people who said they love me have been the first in line to do me harm. A lot of people behave in a way that suggests they find it more acceptable to treat family members poorly than they do strangers (for example, treating coworkers or the boss with more affection and respect than their partner, children, or siblings). I’m not those people.

I wasn’t always the person I am now, that’s pretty basic and obvious. From the vantage point of this woman, here, now, I make a point to treat people consistently well – whether they are strangers, lovers, family, coworkers, or friends. It’s a practice. I’m quite human, and my results vary. I learned a long time ago, though, that relationships among equals require all participants to use their words – and their verbs – and to be equally committed to similar shared values, otherwise the quality of the relationship suffers. Where these conditions are not met, and upon discussion it is clear that they won’t be… I walk on. I no longer allow my desire for connection and intimacy to be turned on me. It feels better to walk on, and build healthy relationships elsewhere.

Generally, we each feel we are the good guy in our own narrative, building an understanding of ourselves and the world around us that smooths life’s harder to grasp gray areas into sharply contrasting either/or propositions. Human primates like certainty. Once we feel certain, we hold on like our lives depend on it. I think, quite likely, the only thing that actually depends on us holding on to that feeling of certainty, is our sense of righteousness and place in the world. While I don’t personally feel a need to be right (I’d rather be love and be loved), I recognize that many people do – to the point of needing an argument; I walk on.

Assumptions about other people are a major relationship killer. Doesn’t much matter who is making the assumption; most of our assumptions about other people are incorrect. Seriously. Even mine. Even yours. It’s a very human thing. When we insist on our assumptions, holding on to them and building our reactions, our responses, our words, on the backs of those untested assumptions, we are no longer having interactions with each other in any authentic way; we’re having conversations with fictional characters who only exist in our own narrative, and disregarding the living being before us. Well… that sucks. I ask questions, practice testing assumptions, and practice being my most authentic vulnerable open and real self – and practice doing so without hurting other people. Being human, I practice rather a lot, my results vary nonetheless, and I’m entirely capable of succumbing to the worst of my very human self and being insensitive, hurtful, or callous. I value relationships in which a friend can say to me “I’m very hurt by that” without games or baggage, and follow through with an honest conversation about our interaction, their values, their needs, our shared experience – such openness leads to understanding, and growth. As with argument, or my Big 5, we don’t all seek the same things from our interactions with others, and we are not all seeking change, improvement, or growth; sometimes the wiser choice is still to walk on.

One rainy autumn morning, suitable for reflection - and taking care of me.

One rainy autumn morning, suitable for reflection – and taking care of me.

It’s a quiet weekend. I have time for thinking, time for writing, time for a third cup of coffee. The calendar reminds me I’ve set the day aside for taking care of hearth and home, a day of housework and tidying up planned. It doesn’t feel like a burden or obligation; the rainy day beyond my window suggests it will be a pleasant day of music, dancing through chores, and a crackling fire in the fireplace, spent taking care of me. How delightful! We choose our adventure. We choose our narrative. We choose how we face our day, and our circumstances. Today I choose great self-care, and a day spent creating the order that feels so good to me. I wonder for a moment if my vulnerability to being baited so easily last night is in any part a byproduct of perceived disorder in my environment…? I walk on from that, too. It is a day for verbs, for actions, for choices.

Today is a good day to create order from chaos. Today is a good day for deciding what to keep, what to let go. Today is a good day to tidy up loose ends, and reconsider what matters most. Each new day I can begin again. Each new day is a new opportunity to walk on from suffering, and to practice being the woman I most want to be. There are verbs involved. My results still vary. That’s okay; it’s enough.

Actually, roses need no defense. They are thorny, lovely, fragrant, bear fruit that has nutritive value, and when selected with care, amazingly low maintenance – so what’s to defend? I’ve often found myself defending roses, though, from the standard variety of attacks: too much fuss, too few/many flowers, too much/little fragrance, prone to rambling/stunted, wrong color, wrong scent, wrong location. There is a theme there.  Do you see the thread of objections weaving through the tapestry of human experience? Too much effort, too little outcome, not quite this, not quite that – dissatisfying on some level, perhaps to costly; the same objections each of us offers to pretty nearly anything we choose to object to. ‘Too much’, and ‘not enough’, are the battle cries of discontent.

I’m learning a few things about discontent. (Call it ‘dissatisfaction’ if you’d like, I’m not sure I’ve identified a real difference, myself.) I am learning that expectations drive discontent when my experience doesn’t ‘measure up’ to the expectations I have allowed myself to indulge. I am also learning that I am sometimes quite mired in the experience of feeling discontented or dissatisfied before I realize that I’ve gotten there, and that being mindful of the developing feeling can be critical to preventing it from escalating and becoming an even less pleasant experience, such as despair, or sorrow, or disappointment. I am learning to embrace my will as a path to an outcome I’ll enjoy more, because willful action is often quite satisfying.

I am learning, and practicing, making clear specific requests to address clear specific needs. (Well, damn, that seems obvious!) I have a lot of opportunities to practice, and it’s definitely worthwhile – because I have a lot to learn.  It sounds easy, but I find that asking for action, or change, is met with a variety of reactions – based on the person receiving the request.

  • Some people tend toward the ‘helpful by nature’, and receive requests comfortably, good-naturedly, and without much argument. It is sometimes too easy to burden those sorts of people too much, because they are so accommodating about the demands life places on them to start with.
  • Some people already face their world and their experience with a lifetime of resentment, summed up, saved up,  and returned as a volley of objections to any request for action or change.
  • Some people don’t quite seem to be having the same conversation I am, and I find myself wondering what they are hearing once they have finished filtering and interpreting the words that struck their ear drums, and then wondering whether to try to straighten it all out, or just wander off in search of sense and understanding elsewhere.
  • Some people choose to be reserved, indirect, withdrawn, sullen, evasive, or ambiguous – rather than communicating at all.

I’d like to understand all that more clearly.  But, in lieu of understanding, I’m working on ‘cleaning up my own mess’.  Learning to communicate more clearly than feels safe, more accurately with fewer words, with more willingness to slow things down to gain clarity and understanding, and more good-natured frankness about my own limitations. So far so good. I’m also much more inclined to be firm about my own boundaries and needs. That one is much much harder. I dislike confrontation, and I enjoy harmony. Communicating harmoniously with people who relish conflict is incredibly difficult – because our goals in communication are not compatible.  A challenging puzzle.

…Huh…this went on longer than I intended, and as I rambled I found myself drowning in words, half-formed thoughts colliding with the miscellany trickling through my very active mind, snagging here and there on a moment of urgent meaning, and suddenly…pointlessness. So…I’ll just stop now. Unfinished. Incomplete. Human.

Here’s a picture of ‘Circus Clown’ (Moore, California, 1991). I’m sure there’s a metaphor here, somewhere…

Fragrant, thorny, robust, and lovely.

Fragrant, thorny, robust, and lovely.