The Implicit Question in Conversations
I’ll be honest, I have this recurring frustration that I have a hard time being heard; that my voice is small and I often have to repeat what I just said. Maybe because on a decibel scale my speaking voice registers more like "rustling leaves" than "normal conversation". Or maybe it has to do with the fact that while growing up I was constantly forced to compete with televisions and shushes because of sports, news, and game shows blasting into every room; a battle I rarely won.
Despite these experiences, I genuinely have a desire for people to be heard in a way that has space around it. I long for normalizing discussions where we're not racing to speak over one another. And where it’s also OK to disagree. The value is not in being agreed with but in being allowed - to have an opinion, to take up space, to be joyful in expressing whatever comes, including a comfortable silence from time to time to digest or ensure what we said has gently moved the hairs in the ears of those around us (speaking is after all touch from a distance).
Instead, this is the way i often see conversations play out:
Someone says something.
In response, the next person makes a copy of what was last said (as if they had said it themselves) but tacks other words onto it (as if it is now their own). Which results in an erasure of what had originally been said (disguised as itself) and mirrors not the original speaker but one’s self-interest imposed upon it.
In this copy-paste-delete format, it often ends up looking like we are merely speaking to an extension of ourselves. Then comes the feedback loop of negotiation, forcing us to meet in a middle where whoever is tugging harder gains more value for what they have said and that in the end, we should arrive at some uniform answer as if our mission is to become a singularity of opinion.
We are no longer seeing the full picture of what the other has shared at all.
And although it might sound extreme, it feels like a subtle violence in the direct appropriation and forced change of the statement as a response.
When did sharing our thoughts, opinions and ideas become a competition of dog-eat-dog instead of a conversation? Was there ever a time when this wasn’t the case?
I see a lot of issues debated as if they could come to a conclusion in a binary way, (and in turn disallow multiplicity and variety), and I see that by stubbornly sticking to this way, the result has elevated a big fat cancel culture. Blotting out viewpoints as invalid if they don’t match our own. Constantly reacting from emotion rather than our rational brain. This way of speaking to each other keeps us in a collective codependency whereby we keep enabling this (micro)violence to chip away at our everyday interactions.
Why are we so threatened when others do not agree with us and why do we then feel the need to strong-arm the other into submission of ours? How in the world did it all become so personal?! And is there something we can do that could make it a bit more pleasant for all of us? Yes, please.
A Simple Method for Agreeing to Disagree
First and foremost, Listen. imagine what someone says as if you are eating the words with your own mouth. What’s the texture? What kind of emotion did the person who shared it seem to experience? Remember that others are actually different people and by holding their views while at the same your own, you get to learn about both.
Know that understanding is not agreeing but understanding is allowing people to have their own perspectives and that they have their own reasons for having those perspectives. By increasing our ability to have empathy, we give more respect to one another and perhaps by allowing more, we can actually get to the real stuff behind the viewpoints shared.
Like a good massage, we need to relax to get through some tensed layers first, and this is a good way to start: Stay relaxed and slow down. By relaxing our minds, we relax our bodies and by feeling safe in our bodies, we stay more present to one another.
The expense of spending your precious energy in saying something you don't mean is a similar loss as money spent on impulse buys.
When it’s your turn to speak try to first understand what is really important to say before you say it. If it gets heated you are allowed to take a break, (even if that break turns into several days). You are allowed to do whatever you need to do in order to speak from a grounded place.
We can either be in flow with one another or in pushy monologue streams where we are only interested in echoing ourselves. I don’t really see this as a choice if we care about doing this thing called life together. How can we do that if we don’t actually see and hear one another?
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