Maybe six months ago, I made myself a note on a small rectangle of paper decorated with little hearts. The paper was from a tiny tablet Theresa gifted me; in hasty scrawl, the note I made myself reads, “” Some time ago, who knows when, my childhood and early adulthood of people pleasing transformed into a sort of conversational jujitsu where I would quietly and nicely inch out of a conversation that felt both uncomfortable and unproductive to me. The benefits of this approach were:
- I was no longer changing myself to please others, a scary and meaningful win in my own mission to peel away all the not-me layers I’d added on throughout my childhood
- Where there might be conflict, there was instead a sort of peace
Which sounds all well and good except that this brand of quiet niceness prohibited the meaningful connection that could have come from staying in the conversation, even if that meant that the conversation became uncomfortable or even full-on tense. Said differently: I value connection. And I wasn’t feeling great about looking back and seeing all the ways I had gotten in the way of connection for the sake of comfort. And so I jotted myself that note – communicate toward connection – and off I went. Over these months of heeding my own guidance, I’ve learned a lot… …like how quickly my brain turns toward pretty, easy options for smoothing interpersonal discomfort away with conversational putty knives… …and how critical pausing, breathing, and regrouping around this directive – communicate toward connection – is to avoiding the familiar pull of that old neural pathway.
About a month ago, I gave myself another reminder in the form of the Buddhist 5 Remembrances, the final of which reads something like (depending on the translation):
It would be easy, then – it was easy, then – to mash up these two ideas, communicating toward connection and inheriting the results of my previous actions, and imagine that if I speak skillfully enough, if I’m patient enough with the connection bit, if I explain myself clearly enough and bring enough curiosity, then I will inherently create that connection that I seek. Except… This is where control meets its match. Which is to say: I can control how fully I honor my intention to communicate toward connection. I can control (or, at least, practice controlling) how I slow myself down, how I shape thoughts with intention before I turn them into communication, how I bring curiosity about the other. What happens after that is fully outside of my control… …as are all outcomes. And the truth is that in my opportunities to practice this self-directive – communicate towards connection – on several significant occasions, my conversational partner chose to disconnect. I didn’t get what I wanted.
So, you might be asking yourself – you might have asked yourself on many, varied occasions in the past – why go to all the effort if I can’t guarantee the outcome I want?Friend, I don’t have an answer for you. What I can tell you is why it’s worth it to me: When I communicate toward disconnection out of habit or fear, I’m left with that lingering awareness in my guts that I might just have missed the opportunity for a bridge because I was so convinced that I would only find a wall. When I communicate toward connection, though, I instead feel as though I did the best I could with the awareness and skills I currently have. I might still have all sorts of feelings about the outcome – sadness, disappointment, frustration – but mixed in with whatever is there is also a feeling of relief from having aligned with my own values along the way. That relief… …that awareness… …that experience of honing my skills by using them… …is what I inherent and what I can then use in my continuation.