Sunday, April 12, 2015

Challenging Communication

In February I made an invitation to listen. My own record of doing so - listening to my inner voice and listening to others compassionately - has been spotty at best. I have had some successes and some failures. I will keep trying. In January I had written that I'd be offering a new invitation for practice each month. Perhaps I can justify offering no invitation in March or April by the fact that listening can be so difficult and is always, always important. That may be the invitation for the rest of the year. We shall see.

Today after church, a friend approached me and told me how sorry she was about the way I'd been treated after my last blogpost. I was at first confused - "Wait, did I write about that? How did she know?" Then I realized that what she saw had been posted publicly and she had happened to see it. It was by accident that I had seen it, too.

Someone who was troubled by what I had written re-posted my last post, asking for others to weigh in about it. The responses to the re-post included a couple of non-substantive and not helpful comments about me (written by someone I know) and another about my writing style. Nothing was actually written about the content of the post and I believe the comments that were written shut down the possibility of anyone giving useful feedback to the genuine request for it.

I debated whether or not to engage with the two people I knew who were involved in the exchange and ultimately decided to do so. With that decision I promised myself that I would only write them (privately) if I could do so respectfully and non-defensively. I was pretty sure I could be respectful, less certain I would not be defensive. This is what I wrote:

I noticed you shared my blogpost. Thanks for reading it, even though you apparently didn't like it. In response to the comments below your share, I have 2 requests: 1) If you choose to comment on my character, please do so directly to me. 2) Since the comments related to the post were about me or my writing style and none addressed the ideas in my post in any concrete way, I am asking with all sincerity why you found it problematic. I have neither need nor desire to debate. I ask with a genuine sense of curiosity. Blessings.

I think I succeeded in being respectful and am still unsure if I achieved non-defensiveness. It was at least less defensive than I was feeling. Writing it was a stretch for me, an attempt to listen when I didn't really want to, but felt I needed to try. Our world is full of good talker-overs, personal attackers, silencers. We need more listeners. I know I am a better person when I approach life open-mindedly and open-heartedly (which happens less than I'd like - practice, practice, practice).

Because it was a private conversation, I won't share the responses, except to say that the responses from one person seemed an attempt (again) to shut down any meaningful conversation and from the other, a desire to engage.

The exchange has given me much to think about. I am challenged to remember that while I don't see eye-to-eye on many things with the people with whom I corresponded, there are things we agree about. I also feel certain that there is much we hold in common that we're unaware of. I must remember that I don't own the Truth, that all of us carry pieces of it, and that what may seem like contradictory truths can actually all simultaneously be true. I am reminded that being right is not most important; treating others as children of God worthy of respect and love is. Offering feedback (positive and negative) is most valuable when it is specific and done with the questions "Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?" in mind. Entering into conversation with an open mind and heart will offer greater rewards than entering with easy assumptions and pre-meditated conclusions (which prohibit any real conversation from happening). And finally, it is important to let go of things that don't serve.

I know all these things on some level, but I have a long way to go before I really know them. And so I write again: practice, practice, practice. May this week offer new opportunities for opening up, listening, and learning and may we take advantage of those sources of possible growth.