Here’s a quiz:
Please define the group about which this paragraph refers.
“I wish they would just keep to themselves. No one wants to see them in public. They’re not welcome here. Good people cannot allow that type of people to live in our neighborhoods, teach in our schools, or be around children.”
Of course, few people will admit out loud or in a comment to this blog that a group immediately came to mind when they read this paragraph, which is a conglomeration of things we’ve all heard said about various groups over the years. We’ve heard this kind of judgmental, exclusive, and unkind language since the beginning of civilization. Because this type of language has existed since the beginning of our human history makes it neither right nor contemporary with how we should treat others.
So, if a group did come to mind, let that be a message to your inner voice that you, along with all the rest of us, still have a little more work to do in becoming an inclusive, loving, and accepting… and perhaps, even celebrating… community of humankind.
I wish I could say that this post would answer all our questions plaguing our country. It won’t. What this post hopefully will offer is a design for unifying our legislative and ideological process more efficiently. It is neither complicated nor particularly innovative. It is simply an effective measure toward success.
Currently, when we approach an issue in America, we assume that the “other” party, which ever party one considers his “other,” or group or organization will have the wrong answer. We are so incredibly certain about our correctness at every turn. We have no intention of discovering new information; we simply want people to agree with us. If they don’t, they are necessarily wrong and simply require education. We walk in with a fight in our hearts. We automatically presume we know best. The problem is that if we begin from that standpoint, we are the ones who are instantly wrong.
If we want harmonious and constructive work to begin in earnest in America, we must begin by walking in with five questions:
1. How do we each define the issue in front of us?
2. Can we agree not to move toward a resolution until we are all satisfied with the definition of the issue?
3. Do we understand that no one person or group is going to get everything he or she wants in the resolution?
4. How do we work together to resolve this issue in a manner that would benefit the greatest number of Americans?
5. What are your ideas? I am willing to listen to you fully, then thoughtfully consider them before responding graciously.
If we start here, then we can reduce the polarization in this country. Any adamant statement in the process that starts with, “Well, you/your party did this…” is not effective. It is counterproductive toward future work together. It brings the issue into the past and necessarily demands that the focus on the work in the present be forgotten.
If we want unity and creativity to move the process forward, we must start by listening, not talking. When I was a boy, my father insisted that my brother, David, and I learn this poem:
“A wise old owl lived in an oak.
The more he saw, the less he spoke.
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Why can’t we all be like this wise old bird?”
Good guidance for a difficult time, I’d say. If we approach one another with a willingness to listen, to understand that others have differing views than we do that do not make them wrong or bad, then we can build something great together. Until that time arrives, we will continue to watch the chasm between our fellow citizens widen and deepen. If that happens, all of us lose, no matter how “right” we thought we were in the first place.
“I hate my life!” It’s a phrase that people post on Facebook, mutter under their breath at their workstations, or think about as they sit in front of their stacks of bills. I usually am pretty even-tempered about others’ communication styles; however, let me tell you what I hate: I hate this phrase!
Ask your mother or your child what their lives would be like if you didn’t have your life. Ask your spouse how he or she would feel if all of a sudden, the life you so glibly say you hate ended. The ungrateful people who say this phrase clearly have no idea what they’re saying, and if they do, they cannot possibly understand the implications of their utterances. Words matter.
Why can’t people simply say, “I’m frustrated,” or “I’m overwhelmed,” or “I’m sad?” Why must they curse the life they’ve been given and the life they’ve chosen? Forgive my outrage, but as I look around and see huge empty holes in my heart caused by losing people whom I love so very much, I cannot help but think, “I wonder if this person or that person would appreciate being given a second chance at life more than this person who claims to hate his or her life so much.”
Enough already! If you’re so unhappy with your life, change it. If the change you need is beyond your control, ask for help. If help seems too far away, ask someone else. There are always options. Say what is really in your heart instead of damning the precious life you’ve been given and, by extension, the people in your life who love you and whom you obviously are too blind to value.
All I’m asking is whatever you do, please, please, please stop saying, “I hate my life.” If I know you, I can tell you with easy certainty that I love that you’re alive. If I don’t know you, I can guarantee that someone is happy you’re alive!
What a novel concept. I just wrote to my congresswoman, Doris Matsui, to ask her to lead a movement to remove Senator John Boehner from his current role as House Speaker, and to select someone new who is more centrist and will represent more Americans than just the Tea Partiers. I just remembered that I could do that. I don’t know if it will do any good, or even if it happened, if it would make any difference, but at least now my voice was heard.
Oh, I’m an American. Yeah, that’s right.
I wonder how many of us realize how much power we really have in this country by just sending an e-mail. No matter what our opinion, if we e-mail our representatives in both houses of congress and our president, they will get the message, whatever it might be. It’s so easy to do, too. According to the United States Census Bureau, we have 311 million people in the country, and three-quarters of this population are of voting age or 235 million of us. Imagine if only half of these people, 117 million, wrote to Congress with only a simple e-mail? How would they possibly not respond to the majority’s requests?
FYI, to find your representiave, type in your search field, “House of Representatives/Senate” and your Zip code. Ta da! There is the information. To e-mail the president, simply type in WhiteHouse.gov.
I suppose I’m not really advocating any particular position in this brief missive other than I believe we should all make our voices heard, no matter what our positions. If we feel strongly about something, don’t spend so much time pissing and moaning about it to your friends. Sit down for 20 minutes (perhaps that extra Facebook or Google+ time), write a thoughtful, productive letter to your representative, senator, and president, and let them know what you think. Your voice counts. A lot of voices count a lot!
(Originally posted as a note on Facebook, July 27, 2011)
It’s a kick to be studying communications in college, which basically is talking about talking. I never realized how hypersensitized I’d be about how I communicate with a classroom filled with communications students.
I’ve tried very hard over the years to be a sensitive and active communicator; however, now I’m questioning every phrase I write and reading between the lines of everything my fellow students are writing.
I have to loosen up a bit or I’m going to make myself crazy trying to walk the tightrope of verbal and nonverbal information.
When I was a boy in McCloud, there were these tiny fences over which I could almost reach. I’m not really certain why they were there, but Dad used to say, “Fences make good neighbors.” Ours were so small that we must have made mediocre neighbors, at best.
What I remember about those fences, though, were the times when Mom and Kitty Joyner would stand on the respective sides of their fence and visit. It was funny that they didn’t go into their kitchens and have a cup of coffee, but I suppose they were hanging clothes on the line or raking the leaves at the time.
Today, fences are over six feet tall and more accurately appear to be sections of the Great Wall of China. When I want to visit my neighbors, the Clarks, I have to speak blindly to them through the slats of the dark brown redwood that has weathered between our homes. Sometimes, someone will climb a ladder to peer over so that our voices aren’t so disembodied any more.
With the increased mobility of people today, our children, siblings and extended families are flung all over the globe. We miss our loved ones terribly. Of course, we’re grateful for the internet and the telephone to keep in touch. Some of us still write letters, which is also nice.
Now, though, we have Skype. Skype is an on-line telephone line, free without an actual phone number, with which you can make telephone calls over the internet. The real blessing of this system is that not only is there audio, but there is video available on Skype. We can actually see, face-to-face, those we love who are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles away! It’s the best thing!
I’ve seen Skype used on Oprah and other television programs. I thought to myself, “Not great technology since the picture looks grainy and the sound is pretty low-level.”
When I spoke to my family for the first time on Skype, however, it suddenly became a precious gem that I wanted to celebrate in every way possible. I was seeing faces with movement and expression that I had not seen in a very, very long time. My heart soared.
I will admit, my hair is not always a happy thing, and sometimes, I am in my bathrobe, but I just figure it’s like a slumber party.
Over the last one hundred years, our transportation system has gotten so good that we can go where our work is, where our heart is, or where our art is in a matter of hours. We can live in foreign lands, distant states, or even nearby cities in a way that is so much easier than having to take a ship to Europe or Asia, or not going at all.
So, here we are, a mere step away from teleporting to our family’s homes. Our faces, voices, expressions, and aging all there for others’ consumption. Who could ask for anything more? Perhaps Skype will elevate the technology once again and we will have holograms of our loved ones with which we can have coffee in the morning.
Thanks, Skype, and welcome, beloved, yet distant family, to my home!
For plain people, communication can be challenging. Even with whatever moderate skills I possess in public speaking and writing, apparently, within the boundaries of a personal relationship, I am one of those plain people.
Too many assumptions, a desire for peace, or the emergence of protective narcissism can keep two people in a relationship from speaking their minds and their hearts. What many of us don’t realize is that the level of communication in an intimate relationship is the glucometer of that pairing’s well-being. Insidious silence can create a hypoglycemic stupor that can be fatal to what might otherwise be a healthy partnership.
Often, we look to the other person with whom we are involved to do the work of opening their mouths. The irony is that what we delusionally want is for our significant other to speak when we are the ones who actually have something to say. It’s like expecting the stove to put the vegetables in the pan. It can’t happen. If we have something to say, then we must take the responsibility of saying it.
What keeps us from opening our mouths? The reasons vary from the erroneous to the dangerous.
We can be afraid of not being heard or understood. There may be a concern that what we have to say may dramatically jeopardize our relationship. At the extreme end, we are afraid that we could risk our very safety by addressing our upset.
Let it be clearly stated that if we are truly afraid for our health and safety if we were to discuss a challenge in our relationship, then we should immediately call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It should never be a physical risk to maintain a relationship or speak one’s mind or heart. One must get out immediately. There are always other options.
For the rest of us, even at the brink of divorce or separation, there are a few things we can remember that will help us to get to the crux of the issue while still being respectful and honoring our partner’s free will and separate adulthood.
1. Remember that you are speaking to someone whom you love or have loved. Often, we get caught treating our partner as though they are the enemy. At one time, at least, we were both on the same page about the direction we wanted to go in our life together. If our desire is to get back to that point, we must speak with love always, even when we disagree.
2. Find one thing positive to say before you start complaining. It happens to all of us that the first thing out of our mouths is anger, frustration, hurt, or some other ugliness. If we take the time to find one loving thing to say before we express the rest of it, the benefits are two-fold: we assist ourselves in focusing on the positive and loving, and subsequently, we open the door to their hearts, so the likelihood of them hearing us is more effective.
3. Think about what is truly bothering you. We must be sure to think through what we are truly trying to say before we blurt out purposefully or accidentally hurtful things just so that we can vomit out our frustrations. We are often not angry at the event that triggered our diatribe. It goes to an underlying cause that is our responsibility to identify to the listener.
4. Keep it down to a dull roar. Screaming is a slamming door for everyone. Physiologically, our ears can take only so much intensity in sound. The moment we begin screaming at one another, the other person stops hearing us. It is a natural protective device. There is nothing wrong with using intense inflections in our voices to get our point across, but if we remember that we love this other person and that we have a goal in this conversation, then our rational minds will help us communicate more effectively.
5. Remember that you are speaking to an adult. If the person across from was was smart enough to marry us, then clearly they are intelligent enough to understand what we have to say. We must assume their intellect and adulthood. It brings a level of respect into the conversation that may disappear on a day-to-day basis. Respect will go a long way toward connecting two people at polar ends of a discussion.
6. Say what you have to say and then ask a specific question. If we request from our partner out loud that they simply listen and then respond after we are done, we have agreed to rules that will create an environment for constructive resolution. “… and that’s how I’ve been feeling. How are you feeling about what I’ve said?” With that last question, we have opened a directed conversation about what is important to us. Remember that we have invited this conversation. If, at some point, our partners in this venture have some issues they would like to discuss, they can say so. Question marks invite conversation. Periods end a thought. Angry exclamation points can end a conversation.
7. State your case clearly. If we haven’t thought out what it is we want to say, how are we going to be able to communicate it effectively? Freedom to communicate between two people in a relationship is important, but emitting voluminous vitriol just become we can is not going to be effective. No one understands rambling. No one. The important thing is to take some time to get our thoughts together and then speak the words that get our point across.
8. When you have fully communicated your thoughts and feelings, give the other person an opportunity to respond. It’s important that both people in an environment be focused toward resolution, as well as information provision. The only way to accomplish these goals is to have both of us in the conversation free to express our thoughts.
9. Allow enough time to contemplate what has been said. Often, when we do get up the nerve to communicate, we expect an immediate response from our partner. It doesn’t always work that way, especially if our partner does not have a facility with language. They may need time to contemplate what they’ve heard and respond later. Getting a commitment for them to return to us in a reasonable time, even the next day, so that we can hear their thoughts on the subject, is a constructive and supportive listening technique.
10. Commit to continuing the conversation until both parties have come to an understanding. Although it is not always possible for both people to be happy with the outcome, there is always a way to come to an understanding of the situation and alternatives for resolution. If both people are listening attentively, responding lovingly, and sharing a desired goal of unified action, then eventually we can get to the peaceful, loving result for which we are both ultimately hoping.
11. Let your word be your bond. If, and when, at the end of the conversation we have come to a mutual understanding and developed a plan of action with our partners, stand by your word. Nothing will build trust faster between two people than seeing that our words and actions match.
These eleven suggestions can help us all in improving our relationships with our partners, and others, as well.
At the most spiritual level, those around us are simply reflecting our lives as we see them and are experiencing them. We are all desirous of joy, peace, love, creativity, and construction. We can find all those things through communication of truth, trust, and triumph over fear.
The real question is, “What priority does my partnership hold in my overall life scheme?”
If the answer is anything other than top priority, our partners are going to know. Why would anyone want to work as hard as we must in a relationship if we are only going to take second billing to work, extended family, friends, hobbies, pets, or even children.
When we get on a plane, the flight attendants remind us that in case of emergency, we must put the oxygen masks on ourselves first, then we can help others. It’s like that in a marriage or partnership of any kind. We must tell ourselves the truth of the situation, make healthy choices, and take immediate action to resolve the problems.
Only then can we feel satisfied with the outcome.