Archives for posts with tag: is there anybody out there?

Questions are powerful. Asking them often seems more valuable [to me] than insisting on answers. It’s the questions that redirect my attention from one thing to another. Questions fired off one after the other without time to answer quickly find me feeling backed into a corner, or attacked and frustrated. Questions themselves are not to blame for any of that; it’s how they are used, and with what intent. If I am listening, they can also quickly alert me that I am being misunderstood. I am learning to practice deep listening even when I feel emotionally attacked, or unexpectedly cornered by someone else’s aggressively expressed agenda. (I’m not saying I find it easy, but I often find it successful for putting challenging discourse back on a civil, comfortable foundation.) The most interesting thing about practicing listening deeply is that I end up… listening. Hearing more. Understanding more. Feeling more compassionate and level-headed. Feeling empowered and safe. Once I’m in that place, it becomes a simple thing to ask a question. No animus, no aggression, no passive-aggressive tit-for-tat punishment or emotional bullshit; I am able to ask a reasonable, compassionate, interested question that may actually result in needs being met, and a greater shared understanding being reached. It’s the whole point of a question, actually.

Who's 'right'? The ducks or the waiting cat crouched in the grass?

Who’s ‘right’? The ducks or the waiting cat crouched in the grass?

Questions are powerful. My results vary, of course, because sometimes it is the very feeling of power, itself, that has fueled whatever drama of the moment exists between human beings – and some people don’t want to ‘give up their power’, and perceive any power in anyone else’s hands as a direct threat to their own. It’s a weird sort of emotional greed. I don’t know quite what else to think of it. Fearfulness at its core, probably – I’ve been so terrified of being powerless, myself, that a single question directed with insightful compassion directly at the heart of whatever was truly bothering me could cause real rage; being visible and understood wasn’t what I was after, I only wanted to feel powerful (and I was, in that moment, willing to get there at the expense of someone else’s feeling of emotional safety). I find it, now, a very unhealthy approach. Giving up needing to ‘be right’, giving up needing to feel powerful (not the same thing as feeling empowered!) and practicing authenticity, self-acceptance, and awareness are important stepping-stones to being able to listen deeply (practicing, practicing!), and ask questions with more compassion, and without attacking (also requiring practice).

If I feel flooded, how do I find firm footing to maintain a feeling of safety?

If I feel flooded, how do I find firm footing to maintain a feeling of safety?

Based on careful observation, the vast majority of disagreements are not at all what they appear to be, and it seems rare that participants in dialogue have actually taken time to ensure they have shared definitions of terms, respected fact-based ground rules for the discussion – and a shared purpose in asking and answering their questions. Conversation is so much more pleasant and fulfilling when it is built on sincere connection and genuine receptivity to another person’s thinking. I’m not much interested in arguments, they take time away from intimacy, affection, and connecting deeply with ones fellow humans. This journey is too rich for strategic bullshit, cautious diplomacy, and game-playing! There are stories to tell, adventures to share, parables to teach with, and love notes to slip past the rigidity of our work lives – all so much more important than arguments built on strategy, mud-slinging, and bogus assumptions, all seeking to persuade rather than to learn, grow, or inform. Opening the door to something more sometimes takes little more than a question.

Are you okay?

Are you okay? How are you feeling? What do you need that I can provide?

Unfortunately, questions are also handy emotional weapons. What a shame. What a waste of precious mortal time. I am learning to face such attacks with a new tool; I listen. I’ve stopped focusing on delivering an immediate answer ‘to defend myself’; if I feel attacked, defending myself is probably pretty pointless, because there is something more going on. Instead, I remind myself that this other human being made not have been fully frank with their intent, their needs, or the purpose of their question. They may not have a similar understanding of the topic being discussed as I do, myself. I listen. I take a deep breath – or several – and listen. I am learning – and practicing – letting go of that attachment to ‘being right’ that is so often part of this very human experience, and reminding myself not to take this other human being’s experience at all personally. I listen more. I am learning – and practicing – talking less. It turns out that it is not at all painful to listen. It sucks to ‘wait to talk’, however, so learning to listen (practicing!) requires a commitment to some verbs, and considerable beginning again. (I interrupt rather chronically, partially because I have a brain injury that makes it harder not to, and partially because I need more practice not interrupting.) I find it helpful, when listening deeply, to ask a question when it is clear that a response is expected; this can help me avoid hijacking a conversation in progress with my own agenda, when the person speaking actually has more to say. 🙂

Am I understanding your words correctly? Do you mean what I think I heard?

Am I understanding your words correctly? Do you mean what I think I heard?

I’m definitely not saying that my words lack value, or that I don’t also want and need to be heard, just that it seems pretty reasonable that we all feel that way, and there does seem to be a woeful shortage of real listening going on… if no one is really listening, how will anyone at all feel truly heard, truly visible, or truly connected?

Will I find balance between listening, and questions?

Will I find balance between listening, and questions?

I have the evening to myself tonight, according to the calendar. No idea what I’ll do with it. Paint? Read? Play? Maybe take a few quiet moments and really listen to my own questions? Questions are powerful – and I value feeling heard.

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.