“Ummm...what should we talk about? Now that you’re here, I don’t know what to say.”
It’s Valentine's night. Peyton and I had been out and about goofing off all night. Once home, we didn’t want the good times to end, so she invited me up to her recently cleaned room (this is an important detail, as I get irritated and stir crazy in her hoarders paradise of a room). But once we assumed position within her space, the room filled with silence. After a few beats, she said, “I know! Let me get my conversation starters.” Your what?! “Right, I can get real awkward, so I downloaded a list of conversation starters. I have 250 of ‘em so I don’t panic when I don’t know what to say.”
And so we dove in. For the next several hours our conversation touched on what brings us joy, the saddest memory we could recall, the first time we noticed who we were, most embarrassing moment, what our days consist of, what makes us belly laugh, and so on. We listened to one another until our eyes drooped with sleepiness and it was time to call it a night. Hot damn. This kid knows how to be good company.
I’ve spent a lifetime of keeping thoughts to myself. My ears belong to you, but verbally communicating often leaves me stymied. How many times have I not said
what needed to be said? I’ve lost count. Culturally, I don’t think we’re in a place that leaves much space for a true back and forth dialogue--an openness to express thoughts, to investigate what truly motivates those thoughts, and to let those thoughts sit without knee jerkedly reacting. Night after night at our own dinner table, we shove food into our pie holes and when we come up for breath, we blurt out our one liners, rarely asking questions of one another. The blurting session becomes obnoxious pretty quickly, filled with off color remarks that aren’t worth responding to (or repeating here). It’s an unsettling experience that I don’t always have the energy to combat. And so it continues.
So what to do with the hard stuff? A couple of weeks ago, I had the great fortune to attend the World Changing Women’s Conference in Sonoma. Often women’s conferences make me crazy. Like, really crazy. But this? Holy smokes--this was a meeting of the minds. Women who feel very solid in who they are and who are committed in taking on their slice of the world in sustainable and supportive ways that are often out of the status quo. CEOs, entrepreneurs, leaders of large and small non-profits from all over the world--moving forward and bringing others with them (and by bringing others, I mean both men and women).
Now what do you do when you have a room of 250 fiercely intelligent, motivated individuals? You take turns listening to one another because, my god, there’s a lot
to learn. Topics aside, the entire conference was structured around listening--really slowing down to hear the other person, but also to listen to oneself. Each session began and ended with meditation. The question/answer sessions were regulated with a no “crosstalk” rule. Take in the information, form questions, and then ask those questions in due time of the other person as well as yourself. Respond with integrity. Respond without being concerned with judgement. Respond knowing that there may not be closure. Gah...I left each session feeling heard and feeling awesome that I truly connected with another human even when we didn’t agree. As a community we had created a special space on short order.
If we could do that with a group of absolute strangers, what could we do with the people we love back at home and the communities we hope to strengthen? Here’s where I landed:
Take time to be super clear with yourself. Listen to instinct; question the stories kicking around in your head.
Know that we have a poverty of language. The words we use are often not robust or specific enough to communicate what we’re truly feeling or thinking.
Given ^^, be kind. Be kind to yourself and to others.
Sometimes being kind to yourself means limiting interactions with others who suck the air out of your bones. No one likes becoming brittle.
Being gentle is not an indication of weakness, as it takes an incredible amount of courage to dish up healthy doses of empathy day after day in the face of the tough stuff.
Don’t be afraid to show emotion or to offer opinion. If it bothers someone, that’s on them.
Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” There’s a lot to know. There’s a lot we’ll never know. Be okay with that.
We are all unique. Our fingerprints confirm as much. That doesn’t mean we’re special (although it’s fun to subscribe to that notion). Go easy on the sense of entitlement.
For whatever reason, I was born into extreme privilege. I must not lose sight of this.
When in doubt, sing at the top of your lungs into a hairbrush. The dog will likely hate it, but you will remember that you have a voice that can be used for the powers of good.
And 11) From Peyton: remember that candy isn't good for you but we eat it anyway because it’s amazing. Also if tomatoes are a fruit, does that make ketchup a smoothie? It’s important to ask the tough questions.