Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Exaggeration in the Rear-View

A few days ago, I got in a blowout fight with my on-and-off partner of the last two years. During this fight, I said, "You don't even want to connect with me at all." Later, in heated Facebook messages, he brought this up as one of the things I'd said or done that bothered him the most.

The day following the fight I was in the car with my mom, on the way to her place for Christmas. We were discussing (more aptly, complaining about and processing) the biggest trauma our family has seen in a long time- my aunt selling the family land, which, although she has the title to, was supposed to be available for my mom to live on permanently in lieu of the inheritance she signed off on. And, as of last summer, was supposed to be left to me. My aunt is selling, she says, because she has severe health problems and needs money to retire. In a recent letter to my mom, my aunt wrote that "you [my mom] don't care about my health at all". This part of the letter upset my mom more than almost anything else my aunt has said.

As soon as I heard my mom relay this, I began to draw parallels. In both cases, the speaker is desperately upset. In both cases, the statement is not entirely true. And in both cases, the person the statement is about is incredibly bothered by it. My mom and I do care about my aunt's health problems - but not as much as we would if she had come to us and asked us for help financially, instead of selling this precious property out from under us. Similarly, my (ex?)-boyfriend did express care for me, but was more focused on himself than helping me at the time.

I shared my thoughts with my mom, wanting her to philosophize with me, hoping that perhaps together we'd find some great revelation about life. But she was still focused on her frustration with my aunt, leaving me to mull it over myself.

I don't have any answers really, except to note this tendency (is it just my family? or is it a human thing?) to feel so desperate and empty that we exaggerate, in a sense, although in the moment it seems true, the lack of care we perceive from others. The only better option I see for myself, or my aunt (though I won't be telling her directly) is to do our best to stay present with our feelings and needs. It would be different, if my aunt or I had said instead, "I am hurting so much right now. I am really needing to be cared for, I am needing help taking care of myself!" I don't know how my mom or my (ex?)-boyfriend would have responded to my aunt and me, respectively, but I imagine it would have gone over a little better.

Hindsight is always 20/20 though.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Truth of Kindness

 If I could tell the whole world one thing today, it would be that honesty and kindness are in no way in opposition to each other. Not at all. Anything that is unkind can also not be true. Anything that is true cannot be unkind.

Why do I believe this, when I live in a culture where people use phrases like "I'm just being honest" after calling someone a bitch? Well, its mostly because of my exploration of a process called Nonviolent Communication, or Compassionate Communication. This philosophy, developed by Marshall Rosenberg, teaches that the only statements we can make with any strong degree of certainty are descriptions of our internal world. This is known as what is alive in us.

While judgments are always open to interpretation, I alone know what is going on inside of me at any moment (if I am self-connected that is, but that is another story). If I say that you're an idiot, we may start arguing about whether that's true. Chances are you'll only agree if you have insufficient quantities of self-worth, or have reached enlightenment and therefore embrace every quality or characteristic equally. If I say instead that I feel frustrated when I see that you've left the ice cream out on the counter, because I'm wanting cleanliness and also to enjoy the ice cream in a slightly less viscous state, you are a lot more likely to understand what's going on with me.

This approach can be taken in the political realm too. It is not very kind of us to say that Obama is a lying two-faced bastard of a pawn who might as well be Bush in a mask, even if we think it is true. This thought is really speaking to how deeply the thinker may want to live in a world where everyone is safe, where we resolve our conflicts peacefully, and people have the ability to speak and travel freely without fear of losing their physical freedom. As Rosenberg would say, judgments are superficial. We really start to move towards resolution when we identify the desire or need fueling the judgment. And the more intense the judgment, the more desperately we probably want whatever is behind it.

Awhile ago I was involved in a situation where someone called another person a dirtbag, and then tried to say this was 'true' because of the person's actions. I am disturbed and unsettled about this. If anyone can ever 'truly' be a dirtbag because of their actions, then that means you and I can too. But I know, and maybe you know too, that all of our actions are just us doing the best we can with what we know. Maybe if the speaker of these words knew better, they would connect to how deeply they are wanting safety, or respect, or whatever it is, rather than throwing around insults. Then they would express their truth, and it wouldn't take away from the ability to be kind whatsoever.

This idea is a pretty radical departure from many people's worldview, I know. Yet can you see the truth in it? Please share what this brings up for you below!