“…at the deepest level all any of us really want is to be validated, is to be seen, to be met fully, to have our experience held and contained by another. It sounds so simple, but in practice is in fact a revolution.
“We long to somehow receive permission to be what we are, for another to understand how we are organizing our experience, for another to somehow be willing to enter into a burning love – field with us, without needing us to be different, to be ‘cured,’ or even to heal. when we are truly met, when our organization is fully validated by another, a very organic process of healing is initiated one that does not come from us or from our friend who is suffering – but seemingly from some mysterious Other.
“When we allow ourselves to enter deeply into the subjective experience of another – and when they feel us with them inside the cracks and crevices of each and every cell of their heart – love takes over, grace begins to whisper its secrets, and we turn toward home, together.”
“For the tongue is a pen, that pressing deeply enough (and whether for good or for evil), will write upon the heart.”
When Communication Breaks. Communication is fundamentally about bridging differences to form a connection of understanding. But sometimes an understanding is never reached. Sometimes those differences turn into disagreements, and sometimes those disagreements come loaded with hostile threats — at least it can feel that way. Most of the time, these misfires are politely ignored or stepped over, but they always cause some form of distance we may not really want in our relationships. Have you ever experienced a pleasant conversation that took a sharp turn? Perhaps it was a complement from a friend that felt more like a slap in the face where the sting burns a littler deeper because this friend still thinks he just gave you a complement. Or perhaps you’ve been surprised by the defensive posture of a loved one in need, when you offered a solution because you sincerely wanted to help.
What’s most heartbreaking about these kind of exchanges, about stepping on these relational land mines, is the surprise. It’s never our intention to cause insult or inflict damage. In fact, it’s usually the exact opposite. Our friend thought he was giving a complement; our advice was offered as a sincere effort to help. Taking a couple steps back, I believe we are taken off guard by a widely practiced, yet subtle communication deficit… I call it negative defined value.
Negative Defined Value. By “negative defined value,” I mean defining the value of a specific idea, thought, or point of view, not by it’s own merits, but by the criticism of something else compared to it. Criticism is easy. It’s much more difficult to put intangible value into finite words — to bring a shapeless void to life, to inspire, to ignite a light that dispels darkness. But that’s exactly what genuine communication does. It’s the difference in saying “you neglect other people’s needs” when we really mean “I need a hug from you” or saying “that is nothing compared to this“ when we mean “I have something that’s been valuable to me and I want to share with you.”
For most of us, we have no intention to criticize; we fall into the trap of talking negatively about alternative viewpoints as an attempt to draw distinctions. Naturally we want to show the unique benefits of our idea, but when we go down this path, the sad reality is we actually don’t share anything positive about what we value. Instead our criticism becomes the main topic of discussion while we put our listener on the defensive (even when they have little to be defensive about). A critical startup is an attack, no matter how subtle; it frames our value as opposition rather than something with substance and worth of its own. I’m a guilty as the next guy; even with this post, I find myself at a greater loss than I hoped. It humbly teaches me there’s lots of room for growth in areas of creativity, vocabulary, specific vision, articulation, listening and understanding. But it also galvanizes my belief the better we do this, the more distinctions will make themselves apparent by the contrast.
Practical Steps Forward. You can join me in a little personal experiment if you want. See if you can catch yourself engaging in this “negative defined value” and count how many times a day — not for an exercise in guilt, but one in greater awareness and hope for the future. My vision for the coming year is to grow in sharing my thoughts, ideas, and perspectives in ways that do not come at the expense of something or someone else. The good news is we get better at the things we practice, right? So here’s to practice… Cheers!
It’s ok to feel disappointed… even if it’s uncomfortable.
Of course we believe that’s true for big things; we give ourselves permission to feel disappointed for losing our job, being involved in a car accident, or finding out someone close to us has cancer. We wouldn’t purposely deny the heartache of those. But what about the small things? They may seem petty in comparison, like when we finally get to our morning coffee and it’s cold, or rip a hole in a favorite pair of pants, or a loved one subtly rolls their eyes when you try to connect with them. So we tuck them away, to unsuspectingly carry them with us all day long where they blanket us with a vague sense of gloom or evolve into an angry outburst over something insignificant.
When I get down, it’s good to remember the weight of depression can often be traced back to a series of small unacknowledged disappointments. They, like you and I, just need to be seen. If that simple request is honored, we can move on without skipping a beat. The wisdom in the old cliché “there’s no use in crying over spilt milk” is only gleaned after we can admit to ourselves the tears behind it all are very real. It’s only after we give ourselves permission to feel disappointed, that we can clearly see a bigger truth. Spills can be cleaned up.
I spent 10 years as a wedding photographer, and it allowed me to see the joys of young love over and over again. I’m so thankful for that time because love is one of the most beautiful things in the world. As we all know, however, not everything that blooms matures into a deeply rooted relationship that goes the distance. Sadly, I’ve seen a few weddings I’ve photographed end in divorce already. Statistically speaking, it’ll happen to half of us — it’s a frightening thought!
So if you’re a bride or groom to be, how do you know if your marriage will have what it takes? How do you build it to last? I believe everyone has the potential; here’s my advice how to get there.
Take some time to thoroughly examine the following. Be sure both of you know how to 1). communicate your feelings, 2). fight fair, and 3). and are capable of following through with commitment. If you have these three relational ingredients, I believe you have everything you’ll need for a beautiful marriage — you’ll have a lifetime of discovering treasures together.
your feelings with vulnerability
Do you know yourself well enough to have a good handle on your feelings in most circumstances? Can you easily share how you really feel with your fiancee? If so, great! If not, why? If there’s anything you’re afraid of, that’s a red flag. Honestly look at what is holding you back and ask yourself if you want to bring that into your marriage with you? Sharing your feelings and giving names to the experiences you share together is what intimacy is all about. The fruit of which is a deep internal rest in knowing you are seen, accepted, and cherished just as you are.
2. FIGHT FAIR
without blame or attacking words
All relationships have inherit conflict. Avoiding it isn’t what makes a good healthy connection — it’s the dealing with it honestly with no attacking or blaming statements. What throws most of us off track is the heat of the moment. When we have strong emotions, we often stop communicating what we feel and jump right into reacting to what we’re feeling. Feelings are vulnerable center; not the defensive retaliation to protect them. For example, if someone starts pushing our buttons, we might say, “Cut it out. Stop irritating me!” We might even attach a feeling word disclaimer and say, “Stop it, I feel like you’re being rude and insensitive.” Although all of these statements may be laced with feeling words, it’s far from being honest with how we actually feel or does it give access to the other person to see us clearly. Digging deeper, expressing how we feel might look more like this, “I’m feeling hurt and annoyed; I need some space for a little bit.” Practice this now, for it sets the path you’ll find yourself years later.
3. COMMIT YOURSELF
to a lifetime of integrity building
Before you say “I do,” ask yourself the really hard questions. Are you capable of following through with your commitments? Ask the same of your partner. Is integrity carved deep into his or her character? Does he or she have a tendency to back out of things when they get too hard? If you know how to commit to one another, you’ll develop the foundation for your love to grow and you’ll be able to endure anything life throws at you. I’ll have no doubt that you’ll be one of the successful ones. Your wedding day will just a drop of goodness compared to the oceans of joy you’ll share as you grow old together. May you have 50 or more increasingly beautiful years!
Below is an except from an old Conan O’Brien interview of Louis C.K. which turned out to be one of the best commentaries on the 21st century and a humorous reminder the secret to happiness is gratitude. Enjoy.
Louis CK: Those were simpler times I think. I just feel like, we may be going back to that by the way, but ah, in a way good because when I read things like the foundations of capitalism are shattering I’m like maybe we need that. Maybe we need some time where we’re walking around with a donkey with pots clanking on the sides, ya know.
Conan O’Brien: You think that that would just bring us back to reality.
Louis: Yeah, because everything is amazing right now and nobody’s happy. Like in my lifetime the changes in the world have been incredible. When I was a kid we had a rotary phone. We had a phone you had to stand next to and you had to dial it, (yes) you know. You know, you ever realize how primitive, you’re making sparks in a phone and you actually would hate people with zeros in their numbers ’cause it was more (right) oh, this guy’s got two zeros, screw that guy, why do I wanna, ugh… and then if, if they called and you weren’t home the phone would just ring lonely by itself. And then when, if you wanted money you had to go in the bank for (yes) when it was open for like three hours. You had to stand in line, write yourself a check like an idiot, and then when you ran outta money you just go, well I can’t do any more things now (yeah, right) I can’t do any more things (that’s it, yeah) that was it. And, and, and even if you had a credit card they, the guy’d go ugh and he’d bring out this whole shunk, shunk and he’d write and he’d have to call the president to see if you had any money…..
Conan: It’s all true kids. You had to call the president, yeah. It was rediculous. (yes) Do you feel that we now, in the 21st century, we take technology for granted?
Louis: Well, yeah, ’cause now we live in, in an amazing, amazing world and it’s wasted on the, on the crappiest generation of just spoiled idiots that don’t care because, this is what people are like now. They got their phone and they’re like eeaagh, it won’t… give it a second! Give it, it’s going to space, would ya give it a second to get back from space, it’s the speed of light, it’s true, it’s true. (yeah) I was on a, I was on an airplane and there was internet, high speed internet on the airplane (yes) that’s the newest thing that I know exists. And I’m sitting on the plane and they go open up your laptop and you can go on the internet and it’s fast and I’m watching YouTube clips it’s amazing. I’m in an airplane and then it breaks down and they apologize the internet is not working and the guy next to me goes psssh this is bull____. Like how quickly the world owes him something (yes) he knew existed only 10 seconds ago (right, right) and on planes….
Flying is the worst one because people come back from flights and they tell you their story and it’s like a horror story. It’s, they act like their flight was like a cattle car in the 40’s in Germany. (yeah) That’s how bad they make it sound (right). They’re like it was the worst day of my life. First of all we didn’t board for 20 minutes (right) and then we get on the plane and they made us sit there on the runway for 40 minutes. We had to sit there. Oh really, what happened next? Did you fly through the air incredibly like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight, you non-contributing zero? Wow, you’re flying! It’s amazing! Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going, oh my God, wow! (yes) you’re flying! You’re, you’re sitting in a chair in the sky (yes, yeah, yeah). But it doesn’t go back a lot. And it smells really. You know, here’s the thing. People like they say there’s delays on flights (yeah) delays really New York to California in 5 hours. That used to take 30 years to do that and a bunch of you would die on the way there and have a baby. You’d be with a whole different group of people by the time you got there. Now you watch a movie you and you take a dump and you’re home.
Since the birth of our first child almost 3 years ago, there’s not been much downtime to process exactly how life has changed. It’s just now beginning to hit me how much of my old life has been lost. Our closest friendships look radically different, a chronic tiredness has settled in, free time has become an oxymoron, and the kitchen is never clean no matter how many times a day we work at it. That’s not to say it hasn’t been a wonderful journey thus far — it has! But it also doesn’t mean the loss isn’t real. The question is whether or not that loss has been acknowledged and grieved.
I think every parent faces a similar struggle in one form or another. Parenthood has a way of changing life to become unrecognizable from what it once was. If a part of us is still holding onto the hope someday the old way of life will come back to us, I imagine a cold dissatisfaction will slowly crawl into our lives. Unacknowledged dissatisfaction plants seeds of resentment throughout your life and starts growing weeds of anger ready to trip you up at every turn, ready to blow up at insignificant details. Or maybe that’s just me. But sooner or later, I think we all come to discover everything in life is teaching us the art of letting go.
If you can relate, stop and ask yourself what have you sacrificed. Have you grieved that loss? As I’m discovering once again for myself, we can only fully embrace the hidden jewels in our new circumstances when we say good-bye to the ones we found in the past. Specifically name what’s changed for you and give yourself permission to grieve that loss. Let the old wash away. Let it be laid to rest with honor and dignity. Let it go. Now our hands are open for something new — and if the smiles and giggles of our children are any indication, I’m sure it’ll be worth many more than what was originally lost.
Since college, I’ve been an occasional hospice volunteer and it’s brought incredible desire for honesty in my life. To come beside someone going through great pain or loss is to come face-to-face with those same issues in own lives. It can be frightening and difficult experience for everyone touched by it, but in that, we are not alone. Death is something we all must go through, we cannot out-smart it or avoid it; we can only accept it. Such a thought can either fill us with depressing fear or optimistic gratitude for what we have now.
There’s something tender and healing about those who don’t run away from death, they have an unsurpassed clarity of life’s true treasures. My experience with hospice care has reminded me that if I make a conscious choice to move towards my greatest fear, the fear of loosing everything — death even — the grips of that fear can be loosened in many more areas of my life. The experiences I’ve shared with these families courageously facing dire circumstances have been a graceful gift helping me face the more smaller forms of death in my own life. The things that I’m afraid of haven’t gone away entirely, but it’s gotten easier to take that first step forward. A beautiful change takes place where life isn’t just about holding onto it anymore, but truly living and embracing every moment of it.
TOP 5 REGRETS OF THE DYING
- I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish I had let myself be happier.
Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse, spent several years caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. In that time, they shared with her their dying epiphanies and she started writing them down in a collection now called, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. We all want to share our experiences so others (especially our children) won’t have to make the same mistakes to glean the same valuable lesson. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we didn’t have to wait until our deathbeds to live with that kind of courage and freedom? Perhaps you and I will live out and fulfill their last wishes.
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
For those of you who don’t already know, I’m tirelessly inspired by the human heart and the magnificent creative energy it pumps out to those willing to listen to that still small voice. The people who listen, act and find ways to share a new language of beauty the rest of us can now understand are the people who inspire me most. As I meet more and more people, I’m discovering there is no such thing as an ordinary person — just an unknown person. In light of that, I’ve been doing a personal project I’m calling Inspired Conversations to make room to have potentially amazing conversations with such people and since I’m a photographer, create a few editorial portraits to share about our time together. Not long ago, I sat down with New Yorker (and Omaha native), Melissa Saunders to talk about her book, Lessons from a Rubber Duck, and the complex issues behind the social phenomenon known as bullying.
“Melissa is a former elementary school teacher and counselor. She has master’s degrees in both education and counseling. Her first book, Lessons from a Rubber Duck, is an empowering tale about standing up to teasing and bullying. She regularly visits schools and other organizations for author visits.” (from her website) The following is a summary of insights gained from our conversation.
The Bully Profile.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no profile for a bully–bullies come from all walks of life. But Saunders said there are a few trends that can be identified:
- bullying is about exploited power and control
- exploited power imbalances can be in the form of social status, intellectual capacity, cultural, religious or sexual/gender differences, etc.
- bullies can also be bully victims–they’ve learned this behavior because it’s been modeled for them
- children disciplined by shame, sarcasm, spanking, or corrosive behaviors are more likely to engage in bullying
Ambiguous expectations for behavior is also a factor that allows bullying to thrive, along with undefined structure or non-established routines. The most surprising news to me was learning that research shows bullying is a tool for gaining social status. It makes me wonder how bullying becomes a form of social currency in our public school system in the first place.
Social Value Equals Social Status.
Saunders says, “We send messages all the time about what we value.” Or even in what we don’t say and ways we aren’t even aware of. Consider the simple use of pictures of generic people in text books–for young kids grasping for identity, these send a message of what is normal, accepted family and relationships, or the standard all else is measured against. Or what about the things we choose to celebrate? What things are important enough to interrupt the day and stop the learning process to celebrate? Very often schools do just that for prep rallies. And in the process, it sends a very strong message about what or who is worth celebrating with school wide attention. We celebrate football players and cheerleaders (which re-enforces stereotypical gender roles), not chess champions, academic achievers, artists, or the marching band. Everyone’s heard the term “band nerd” but no one thinks to put together the words “football nerd.” This creates social status.
It’s quite possible bullying is the root of all violence in our schools (if not society at large), and it can be discouraging to see how deep bullying runs into our systems of society. But it’s also true that change is always possible. Adults who were bullied as children are speaking out to give kids empowering vision beyond victimization. One such simple message of hope is the “It Gets Better” movement. There’s also the Trevor Project and the Safe School Improvement Act (SSIA) which seeks to require schools to have specific policies in place to get federal funding and spell out specificity protected rights.
Genuine Communication is Help.
Saunders says kids tend to think that adults won’t do anything about it or will make things worse, but “if kids see adults getting involved in a positive way, the more likely they will be to share what’s really going on.” The more transparent we are about these issues, the more empowered we’ll be to choose to live differently.
I’m glad this man changed the course of history 46 years ago. Perhaps love and kindness can still bend the political machine towards justice. I love the connection to life that magically happens when we realize children are people too.