I’ve been told in the past that I have ‘a way with words’. Sometimes someone says it when I write something that appeals to them. Sometimes it’s when I’ve listened to what someone has said, responded with the underlying message that I’ve heard, and been told “That’s exactly what I was trying to say but I couldn’t find the words”.
But creating this blog has taught me that ‘finding the right words’ to share my true thoughts and feelings is a bit like deciphering an obscure, internal code and more challenging than I originally thought. And maybe that’s the important and personal message for me. ‘To learn how to do anything well, you first have to start doing it and then you just have to keep trying...’
Last week a friend took the time and trouble to send me some thoughtful feedback about her views on my last post (Blessed be the Navel-gazers). She included things that she agreed with and things that she saw differently. And responding to that feedback was a great learning exercise for me in how to practice what I preach.
Some points she raised immediately rang true for me and will definitely help me in writing future blogs. Others showed me the limitations of language and the many different ways that what we write and say can be interpreted by others. But one of the most interesting questions she posed was “What if being true to ourselves has the potential to hurt others?” Should we still choose the path of personal truth?
It took me a long time to find the right words to respond to this, which helped me greatly in getting to the core of what I truly believe (beyond the simple slogan ‘We should all be true to ourselves!‘). And this was the gist of my reply:
“When I talk about “Being true to ourselves” I don’t mean “Telling everyone exactly what we think of them” I mean “Not pretending to ourselves or others that we’re feeling something we don’t feel or that we’re agreeing with something we don’t agree with”.
I mean recognising that any uncomfortable feelings we might have in particular situations (eg: anger, impatience, irritation, anxiety, fear) will always have an important message for us about something we’d rather not face and are worth inward reflection (if we want to learn more about ourselves and about our relationships). And, if we find that the message is so important that we need to give voice to our feelings, then choosing the least provocative and most respectful way of doing this. Because only by adopting this attitude can we have any hope that the other person will truly hear us (ie: speaking from a place of compassion for ourselves and for others).
I believe that we only truly learn how to do something well by actually, repeatedly, doing it and then learning from our experience. And, I also believe, we only build true self-respect by being as congruent as possible (ie: living outwardly in line with what we believe inwardly).
Anyone can adopt the “I’m right and you’re wrong” stance, or the “I’ll agree with you just to keep the peace” stance, but it takes compassion and skill (which only comes through practice, trial and error) to learn the “I think I have something valid and worthwhile to say, but it differs from what you believe” stance. And, importantly, to allow others to do the same. And this is the skill that I’m learning how to hone and develop in myself through my personal relationships and through my blog posts.”
I do believe that ‘finding our true voice’ in any situation is an important, respectful and honourable thing to do, and that constant avoidance of this can lead to us becoming disingenuous, two-faced, and increasingly distant from our best and truest selves. I think if we avoid being honest about our true thoughts and feelings, because we fear the reactions of others, we risk creating a massive divide between our inner world (what we truly believe) and the outer world we live in with others (the ‘part’ we’re playing, to be liked or to keep the peace). This is a recipe for massive internal dissonance…the root of much anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation and alienation in our society… and that’s something I’d like to change and to influence, in any small way I can, by how I act and and how I live and with what I write.
I believe that if we never try to ‘give voice’ to what our heart is truly feeling in the most mutually-compassionate way we can – especially in situations that feel most challenging and important to us – what starts as a one-off choice, soon becomes a habit and then, very quickly, our normal way of being which, ultimately, helps no-one.
The more often we speak from a place of personal truth, the more often we demonstrate our hope and belief that this individual person is wise enough and strong enough to hear what my heart is urging me to say. And I believe that the risk of rejection we take in doing this, (particularly with people we have close relationships with) is outweighed by the possible reward of deeper, more honest, more authentic, more loving and compassionate relationships as a result.
To me, compassion is a gentle practice and discipline, a loving practice and discipline, an open-handed way-of-being rather than a finger-pointing one. And I believe that self-compassion and compassion for others are inseparably bound together, because the way that we speak to and deal with ourselves will be reflected in the way that we speak to and deal with others, and vice versa.
The more we open ourselves to looking closely and compassionately at the most vulnerable and needy parts of us (which every one of us carries around inside us, whether we’re prepared to admit it to ourselves or not) the more we allow the possibility that this part will have a voice when we speak in dialogue with others. And, because we’ve given that part of us the respect of being truly seen and heard, it’s less likely that it will speak in aggressive or defensive language. Rather it will help us by finding calmer, kinder and clearer words with which to express our heart-felt truth – words more likely to build bridges, rather than to burn them.
When I walked my first Camino in 2015 I stayed overnight in the Convent hostel of León and met a young Spanish man named Matías, at breakfast the following morning . He spoke perfect English, but was trying to encourage me to converse in Spanish, at a time when when my grasp of the language was virtually non-existent. I became more and more embarrassed and frustrated with myself, at my lack of ability to converse, and more and more reluctant to continue the friendly conversation. But my reluctance, embarrassment and frustration disappeared in the presence of this young man’s gentle persistence and good-humoured kindness. He simply looked me in the eye, smiled, and in very a soft tone said “It’s OK to feel unsure…but just try…”
I believe that, whether we’re trying to find the right words to express our true feelings in a particular situation or to build longer-term bridges of mutually-respectful and honest relationship with others, it’s always worth “just trying…” to give our true feelings a voice.
“Risk is the hard currency of reward”– Chris Evans