7.17.2007

Listening and Being Heard

As a "P.S." on my post on ethics and spiritual formation . . .

I have been thinking about dialogue, and about how some people act annoyed with dialogue when they would rather shut the other person out of a discussion . . . and just maintain the status quo, or maintain their own power.

I have also been thinking a lot about "relationship", and about people on the one hand bemoaning how hard it is to have authentic and honest and engaged relationships and people on the other hand bemoaning their need for a world where they get some privacy and rest from the demands of others upon them, and how impossible that is for them to find.

And a simple dynamic of conversation occurs to me: One speaks. The other reflects back what he or she heard until the first speaker affirms that he or she thinks the second actually understood what was being said. And then they switch, and the listener becomes the speaker, and the first speaker becomes the listener, and the speaker has the satisfaction himself or herself of speaking the truth as he or she sees it, and hearing the listener paraphrase it back until the speaker is satisfied that the listener got the point.

Relationship takes the time and opportunity and practice of just that, and exactly that. If I am angry at the speaker and don't let her know (in some way that she can actually hear) that I have actually understood what she was saying, she will follow me around repeating herself, or else she will disengage and go elsewhere for relationship, or perhaps alternate the two -- depending upon, most likely, her perception of my power to offer some sort of solution to whatever she was saying. And if I hear her and make her feel heard, but then refuse to share anything of myself in return, the best that will result is a dependent sick relationship that will exhaust us both eventually, and the worst is that she will go elsewhere for relationship that is mutual.

So if I want real relationships, I will invest time, attention, good communication skills, and a degree of transparency. If I am unable or unwilling to do all those things, I will either acquire the skills and willingness to do all those things, or I need to give up on the rhetoric that I actually want engaged relationships.

Engaged relationships cost a lot. They not only cost all that I listed in my last paragraph, but they do cost me myself ultimately. Because, in a truly engaged and honest relationship, I will change. I will die to who I was yesterday, and become who I will be tomorrow . . . as I deal today with the truth of your perceptions and needs and my perceptions and needs and the new vision of reality that can only come to me through real relationship. What a cost!

But then, what is the cost of hiding from that pain and cost?

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