Monday, April 20, 2009

Talk To Me


“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.”                                                                                                     Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Recently, I have come to appreciate even more the role that good communication plays in our relationships.  Too often, we become content to exist in relationships where our sole means of communication relies on assumption as opposed to direct verbal interaction.  These assumptions, while not usually confused with being “confrontational” can become proverbial snowballs, growing and growing with misunderstandings, that could be cleared up, or dissipated, with something as simple as clearly speaking what is on one’s mind.

Direct communication is something that I grew up with.  My husband refers to my extended family’s style of communication as the “pit bull style of communication” – we hear something someone has said, and like a pit bull, we grasp hold of it and don’t let go until we are certain we have gotten some kind of understanding of what the other person has said, sometimes taking hours of chewing over and over the dialogue that has led to this point, if there is something we have been unclear or disagreed, about.  This is not only how we communicate when it comes to “differences”.  We communicate like this in discussions.  It is important to us that we know one another.  I don’t know if I could feel that I have had a strong, personal connection with someone if I did not experience that “chewing” form of communication.  I can’t stand innuendo or assumption.

It is like being in a foreign country for me to find myself in a group setting where direct communication is not the “norm”.  Assumption might as well be Arabic or Greek, as far as I am concerned.  Maybe that is why the “big group of women” thing eludes me (see my post “I’m Not That Kind of Girl” for more detail).  I could guess what others are saying, or rather implying, but unless I hear you clearly there is no telling what you are going to get.  I find it interesting to interact with people who have come from settings like this, to see them find their voices and begin to actually feel the freedom to talk after years of (for all practical purposes) silence.

I love the quote from Anne Morrow Lindburgh, above.  There is not much that I enjoy more than great conversation with people I am trying to understand.  Clear, direct communication is a window into one’s soul.  Open, deep conversation, where the parties feel the safety and security to share – REALLY share – is more meaningful and satisfying than a glass of the best wine served with premium caviar presented with a gift of the costliest jewels, because it is sharing of something much more valuable - one’s self, even one's soul - and that is priceless.

For whatever reason, many people feel the need to protect or withhold that gift.  They might withhold that gift for many justifiable reasons, but ultimately, it costs no one more than themselves.  The cost may not be one readily measured.  It may not be something concrete (how can you know what you are missing when you have never experienced it?), but it is something that leaves a void, nonetheless.  Is it bad to not communicate?  Is it OK to live life with no one really hearing you?  I guess it is all about what you are willing to live with (or settle for).

Some months ago, I had a conversation with someone during a crisis moment that made me think about this “communication” thing.  This person told me that they never felt that they could ever let anyone know exactly who they were.  They said that they were brought up to believe and behave as if outward appearance was THE most important thing.  This person confessed to me that they felt so bound by this creed, and had allowed it to control their lives so much, that they felt those closest to them, including their own spouse – their spouse of 30+ years, had never really known them.  Their spouse was no longer living, and they were full of regrets.

I felt that the realization this person had was a huge turning point for them.  I imagined what Dr. Phil must feel at the point of a breakthrough.  We had really accomplished something.  I thought that this would be a new beginning; an opportunity to do things differently, and I was full of optimism. 

The crisis subsided and life continued in relative “normalcy”.

Imagine my surprise recently when this person not only refused to acknowledge the importance of direct communication with those closest to them, they were actually critical and dismissive of anyone else’s attempts to do so…. And we had covered so much ground just a few months before!!!

Why is it that some people are content to keep living in status quo?  Sometimes I wonder why anyone would not want to clamp down, like a pit bull, and not be content to let go until they feel like they have found what needs to be gotten out of a particular interaction …
Unlike Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day (not sure why I am on a Bill Murray movie kick, right now…), we don’t get to have “do over’s” until we get it right.  We just get one chance for each day, so why wouldn’t we want to make the most of every single one?


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