Friday, September 29, 2006

Communication: Lost Opportunity

“I feel so sentenced by your words, I feel so judged and sent away, before I go I've go to know is that what you mean to say? Before I rise to my defense, before I speak in hurt or fear, before I build that wall of words, tell me, did I really hear? Words are windows, or they're walls, They sentence us, or set us free. When I speak and when I hear, let the lovelight shine through me. There are things I need to say, things that mean so much to me, if my words don't make me clear, will you help me to be free? If I seemed to put you down, if you felt I didn't care, try to listen through my words to the feelings that we share."

-Ruth Bebermeyer

I had an experience recently with a friend that demonstrates perfectly what Ruth Bebermeyer is saying in her poem. I was with a friend who has a teenage son. He had a tantrum over something small, completely lost his composure, and ran off. I learned about this as my friend frantically searched for him. She was absolutely furious with him and found her anger growing as she searched.

The miscommunication came from me. I assumed, without asking her and helping her uncover her feelings, that she was angry that he had had a temper tantrum. Through my misunderstanding, I kept trying to “help” her remember how wonderful her son is and that she loves him deeply and that he is hurt too. As someone who is prone to emotional outbursts (as my friend is not), I also tried to “explain” his behavior away. (I keep using quotes due to my sheer embarrassment to this day that I thought I was helping her!)

I did receive a clue as to what she was really feeling when she just mentioned as an aside the this was the son who kept trying to run away as a child (he is now 13 years old). I didn’t even notice the clue, though, since I was already well down a different road. It didn’t dawn on me until later in the day that her expression of “anger” was really a deep fear that he had run away. I am well aware that by not taking the time to discover with her what was actually bothering her, my “helping” was really just very annoying.

Although I am not sure what went on between the two of them when she finally found him, a strong possibility is the disconnect continued and she expressed anger to him instead of the fear she was really feeling. If I had taken the few minutes it would have taken to actually listen to her instead of assuming I knew what she was thinking, we would have had a better connection and together we may have uncovered her true feelings which then may have translated into a better connection with her son.

As Sri Harold Klemp says, “We are responsible for all the ripples created in others by our anger, as well as the ripples they in turn pass along to the next group.” I think that can apply to the ripples of compassion as well. When we stop and take the time to really hear another individual or make sure they really heard what we said, we build on connecting with others and that connection is carried in the heart of the other person to be passed on to someone else.