Monday, November 14, 2016

The Difficult Conversation

We've stopped knowing how to have uncomfortable conversations with each other in every area of our lives - work, family, politics.

In fact, I've really never learned how to do this. In my family of origin, during my life until I was 12 years old, we swept things under the rug. And then when there were disagreements in my house, they were loud, sometimes violent and very scary. My parent's swung from "Everything is Fine," to "I want to Fucking Kill You," over and over again.

When everyone got sober, things got better, but my training was done. I avoided conflict at all costs.

This was the main reason I wrote my memoir. I felt my whole life had been shaped by choosing to get along instead of learning to share my feelings when they weren't what either of my parents wanted to hear - and I wanted to show the price I paid for that so that others would learn to have the difficult conversations with their loved ones.

Over the last 40 years, I have slowly learned to have difficult conversations more often, but I still avoid them for the most part. It took me 5 years to leave my first husband because I was in fear of the difficult conversation with him. I've let friendships just disappear because the difficult conversation was just too difficult. I avoided doing my art for fear of criticism, feedback and another's take on my craft.

Over the last 8 years, I have learned to be more brave, and more vulnerable. I have begun to share my perspectives more, but have lived in fear that I'd be stomped on by people who hold strong positions from the left, the right, the spiritual communities and the secular communities. I have done my craft in public, and learned to hear feedback that challenged me, but made my work better. I have been listening to every political perspective (maybe not close enough always) to try and learn from those that I know have something to teach me.

Part of why I am afraid to sit with the discomfort of the tension and unknown that comes with having these conversations, is that I haven't learned to tolerate it on a basic physiological level. I think we are hard-wired to avoid this discomfort for survival reasons. It's from a primitive part of our brain. It served us as animals. But I now see that maybe it is no longer serving us as homo sapiens.

I wonder if this is why people feel more comfortable saying things on social media? There is a buffer. We're not in the room with each other. And of course, this has then led to an unleashing of views that do not know how to maintain relationship. We've gone from feeling silenced to then only being around those who agree with us (no fear of discomfort), and then sliming each other from our silo-ed bunkers.

We have lost the art of sharing our fears, hopes, pain, anger and vulnerability. Or in my case, I have perfected it by doing it from a stage or a page, but not one-on-one where it feels just too scary. When we are sitting face-to-face and willing to create safe space for the other, we both get to risk having to look deeply and see our own biases, blind spots and hardline thinking.

I am looking in the mirror deeply to see my part in all of this mess. That is what I do. Sometimes to a fault, but I feel it is the only place to start.

Maybe this is part of what my new book is about - How we slowly heal ourselves from our allegiance to old family systems so that we can learn to speak our truths, and to hear truth about ourselves from the others around us who have something to teach us in the end.

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