Talk can build connection or distance
Recently I’ve been reflecting on talk that builds connection between people vs. talk that builds resistance and distance. Connection around shared interests and needs is something I long to see not only in my personal interactions but in our wider public conversation. I hear the life and longing hidden beneath the labelling, naming and shaming that seems so commonplace, yet don’t hear a lot of what really matters to the person doing the shaming.
As I’ve reflected, I’ve returned to some of the writings that have helped form my appreciation of conversations where people actually connect around what matters to them. Here are some samples of those writings:
Becoming literate in expressing needs
I had worked in human communication for many years and engaged in much personal development before I came across the work of Marshall Rosenberg. I continue to appreciate how his focus is to hear beneath judgments and strategies to the needs that are not being met.
“I’ve found that very few people are literate in expressing needs. Instead they have been trained to criticise, insult and otherwise communicate in ways that create distance among people. As a result, … resolutions… are not found. And instead of both parties expressing their own needs and understanding the needs of the other party, both sides play the game of who’s right. That game is more likely to end in various forms of verbal, psychological or physical violence than in peaceful resolution of differences.”
“We can train ourselves to hear needs being expressed through the messages of others, regardless of how others are expressing themselves”.
Rosenberg, Marshall B. We Can Work It Out. p4 & 7. Puddle Dancer Press. CA. 2015.
Talking from a peaceful heart and mind
There are some writers who for me have a timeless relevance. Kahlil Gibran is one of those.
“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;
And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly”.
Kahlil Gibran. The Prophet. p71. Middlesex. U.K. 1926.
The power of words born out of silence
A close friend gave me Henri Nouwen’s book ‘Reaching Out’ many years ago. It came at a time when I was coming to own more of my own power, befriending and resting the noisy internal chatter.
“When we do not protect with great care our own inner mystery, we will never be able to form community. It is this inner mystery that attracts us to each other and allows us to establish friendship and develop lasting relationships of love. An intimate relationship between people not only asks for mutual openness but also for mutual protection of each other’s uniqueness.”
“When we live with a solitude of heart, we can listen with attention to the words and the worlds of others, but when we are driven by loneliness, we tend to select just those remarks and events that bring immediate satisfaction to our own craving needs.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen. Reaching Out. p32 & 33. William Collins. London. 1976.
Offering a space where change can take place
How transformative our public conversations might be if many people offered to others a space where change can take place!
“Hospitality … (is) the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring (others) over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead out neighbours into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options fro choice and comment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can bear fruit and ample fruit.
Henri J.M. Nouwen. Reaching Out. p. 68 & 69. William Collins. London. 1976.
An exchange of words is a precious event
I love this reminder about the power of words from Marie Cardinal as she describes her path out off a childhood marked by institutional control.
“I had never thought of this, never understood that any exchange of words was a precious event. It represented a choice. Words were boxes. They contained material which was alive.
Words could be inoffensive vehicles, multicoloured bumper cars colliding with one another in ordinary life, causing sparks to fly that did no harm.
Words could be vibrating particles, constantly animating existence.
Words could be wounds or the scars from old wounds. They could resemble a rotten tooth in a smile of pleasure.
Words could also be giants, solid boulders going deep down into the earth, thanks to which one can get across the rapids.”
Cardinal, Marie. The Words to Say It. p240. Allen and Unwin. St Leonards. Australia. 1993.
The space between voice and presence
And from another writer with timeless relevance for me:
“There is a way between voice and presence
where information flows.
In disciplined silence it opens.
With wandering talk it closes.”
Jelaluddin Balkhi (Rumi). The Essential Rumi. p32. Translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne. Castle Books. NJ. 1997