It sounds simple. Just tell the truth. But, telling the truth is difficult. As much as I believe in honesty, I grapple with it. Speaking up isn’t as easy as it sounds. Try telling someone they have gas or their hair is too greasy.
Being honest can be better than stuffing myself with donuts, but it’s not a good idea when I’m in a snit. This world’s already in a mess because we have too much anger and conflict, both personally and politically. So, what to do? Sometimes I get bloated, hold in my hairball or take stool softener -- while my cat gets relief just blurting it out.
When to risk difficult conversations and when not to? Sometimes I shut down instead because saying what I feel can come out wrong. Hey, it’s easier than not being heard. Why rock the boat, or argue over something that could be let go? As my friend Jutta says, “Sometimes we just have to button up.”
Well, the other day I decided to take the leap. I told a friend she had hurt my feelings. She gasped, “You’re kidding, what did I say?” After I told her, she grabbed her belly, bent over, and then jumped up, throwing her long hair back, (as I gulped and sweated). She belted out, “Oh, my God! I was kidding!”
Ok, so telling the truth isn’t always smooth. It can go a lot of directions -- hurt feelings or more resentment. Then again, if you don’t tell it, you could get a stiff, throbbing neck or feel more isolated. There’s even the very palpable fear of punishment, jail or retaliation. Being called a “whistleblower.”
These are trying times, keeping up with the economy and technology, earthquakes, heat waves, aging, violence, etc. So, why bother being honest?
John Backman said it well in “The Dialogue Venture.” The pursuit of dialogue is important. “The future of our marriages, of our churches, even of the planet may depend on it. If we cannot talk openly and civilly about family conflict or matters of faith, let alone climate change or nuclear armament, how can we ever overcome the problems that threaten us all?”
Why can’t we just talk to each other calmly? Fear, despair, stress and more escalation are a few reasons. The fight or flight instinct is strong and if the other person seems unsafe or blaming it takes balls and skill.
Another tactic we use to get away from hard conversations is being passive aggressive. Did you hear about the wife who said to her husband: “When I get mad at you, you never fight back, how do you control your anger?” The wife responded: “I clean the toilet bowl.” The man asked: “does that help?” The wife replied: “I use your toothbrush.”
Ok, on a serious note, we all know that getting our claws and hairballs out leaves a mess on the floor… kind of like the state of the world. But deep listening or skilled communication is work. And who wants to do it? To use “I” statements and say our needs and intention takes skill. And, if both people own a part in it, the conversation glides like Vaseline. But, it’s a new skill for our species. We didn’t learn Relationship 101 in school. (I think it would have served the planet more than algebra.) So now we’re living in a power hungry society with constant conflict. So, what to do?
Gear up. Dive in. Say what you need and wish for: “I wish we could get along,” or ”I’d like peace.” State a positive intention. Don’t purge criticisms and don’t use email.
And, if you’re still snorting or feel too fragile, don’t watch war on TV and get congestion from pizza. Don’t blame and vent, take a rest. The world depends on it.
And if telling the truth seems too challenging, sometimes it’s best to go with the flow, just let it go.