While on vacation (yay vacations!) I read a delightful book about a thwarted romance, the repercussions of which stretched over three generations. The original conflict stemmed from a harrowing experience that the individuals perceived totally differently. One event, two completely different perceptions. And that was the end. They never talked about it! Though I enjoyed the book, I found myself also incredibly irritated! “All these years,” I thought. “All this pain and suffering could easily have been rectified with one conversation!” It actually spoiled the book for me because I was unwilling to suspend my disbelief around this conflict and the subsequent lack of communication.
I grant you, not everything in the world can be solved by talking – differences are exacerbated or the gaps between people emphasized. But that’s OK! At least you know where you stand! Knowing the gap at least allows people to move forward, to work towards compassion or at least recognize some element of shared humanity and decide to stay in some sort of relationship or to move out of it.
Talking is important but of course it is only one half of the equation. The other half is listening. People can talk at each other all day long and not hear a thing. It’s the act of listening that moves us towards compassion and understanding.
Seems like listening has gone missing in particular during this ever so delightful election season and overall in this age of the unedited tweet. We love to talk, shout our opinions, lambaste and criticize from our righteous heights but when do we actually hear each other? When do we sit down face-to-face or ear-to-ear via phone to actually talk? Back and forth emails can be useful but they are not a great problem solving tool when emotions get heightened. Tweets and texts are even worse.
It’s simple, I know, perhaps even simplistic but the thing is – it works! Think truth and reconciliation committees where the victimized and the oppressors come together to hear each other. Healing happens. Not every problem is solved or justice brought to bear but it helps. It really does.
Thanks for listening. I’m off to find a new summer reading book. Call me if you want my help in setting up structures and processes for your workplace or group to have powerful conversations.