Anybody who knows me, will tell you that I like to talk. Scratch that; I love to talk. My adult life has really consisted of learning what talk actually does; where it goes; what it heals; and when talk becomes unhelpful, or even damaging.
One aspect of this I’ve thought about and discussed with others, involves conversations with people who don’t really want to understand you. Whether consciously, or unconsciously, they see you as a tool to get their message out; they see you as a sounding board; they see you as someone to educate. But they don’t see you.
I know this phenomena exists, not the least because I endure it, but also because I perpetrate it myself. Yes. Sometimes I have conversations with people and stop including their humanity in the exchange. They become someone to educate, someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to act as a foil to get a message out.
Lately I’ve begun to work harder and harder to walk away from this. I’ve begun realizing that when I have blindspots, I rely on others to see them. When I see others with (what I perceive as) blindspots, I also have an obligation, if I care about them, to share.
But not everybody wants to know about their blindspots. And I perform a peculiar kind of violence when I insist on “doing what I think best for them”, as if disciplining a foolish child.
Last night, I heard Danita Washington say: “Elders hold space, so that the younger people can make all the mistakes they need to.”
But wait – nobody needs to make mistakes? Do they?
As a mentor to younger folks, I know the answer: of course they do. We all do. We learn most purely and powerfully when we do. Besides; do I judge when someone makes mistakes? Do I really have such a perfect track record that I know what to call foolish, and what to call wise?
To get back to the original point: what I’ve learned to look for, in my conversations, I call a Generosity of Spirit. This makes a real conversation possible. What signs point to this Generosity?
A curiosity about my point of view.
A “generous interpretation” of my message, meaning they see in what ways what I’ve said makes sense, rather than first going to poke holes.
A willingness to paraphrase my message to check that they really get it.
A fundamental desire to understand, and perhaps discover blindspots they didn’t know they had.
I’ve just listed a lot of standards for the other person, huh? This would look quite one-sided, if I didn’t use these standards as a measure for myself to see whether I’ve lost that same Generosity of Spirit.
When I lose that curiosity about their point of view, begin to skim their message to pick just the points I can easily rebutt, begun to privately build resentment against them (and thus lose interest in understanding them), I know I’ve lost that Generosity of Spirit.
Iroquois teachers of mine call this, from another angle, the Place of Peace, the Good Message, and the Principle of Unity.
I have a lot more reflecting to do, but I begin to see ever more clearly how some conversations have died before they ever begun, and to indulge those conversations, I then dehumanize both myself and my conversation partner.
Why even open one’s mouth, unless it creates Life? For oneself, for others, we build a world from our words, from our conversations. We determine the richness of our life, through the cultivation of our relationships.