“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” Arthur Schopenhauer
What do you do when you are offended by what someone says to you? How often do you stop and think about your response before speaking? How can you create peace in a conflicted situation?
We can only see what we can see. When I was four, my world consisted of the house where my parents and I lived, my great aunt’s and great grandmother’s house next door, my grandparents’ garage apartment and my grandfather’s carpentry shop below, and the yard in between. It was a rich, loving world filled with cats, birds, a boxer dog, and a bureau full of books.
Life Experience Can Broaden Our Vision
Many years later, my world is quite different. I have lived in urban environments in all four parts of the United States and spent several weeks studying in West Africa. All those loving people who surrounded me at four have passed. I am now surrounded by the mountains I love, but the world I know stretches far beyond this hollow.
The more I have been exposed to people who are different from me, the more I have grown in my understanding of human nature. Part of this is related to my own curious mind. I love learning about almost anything. I have always been curious about views that are different from mine and I don’t feel threatened at all by being exposed to new ideas. I read, explore, and if I feel the idea or practice may be useful, I work with it for a while to determine if it has value for me.
Communication Is The Key To Understanding
Because of my exposure to different cultures, I have become more aware that the way we communicate is the key to understanding each other. There are many practices that relate to compassionate communication, but I want to look at one specific aspect of communication today. What is our intention when we speak?
Having tended a number of discussion groups over the last few years, I have observed that there are some people who just want to let off steam. Others want to prove they are right and turn any discussion into a debate. Many people want to connect with others in a way that builds community and deep connections. These are all very different ways of communicating.
Personally, I want to connect in a way that allows me to understand others and that they understand me, for understanding helps me respect the views with which I disagree. I don’t have to agree with what another believes, but I need to respect it and be compassionate because this can create peace where otherwise there may be conflict. I want peace in the world and this is one way I can help create it.
Check Within Before We Speak
We can’t control how another person acts, but we can choose to take responsibility for ourselves. Self-monitoring helps us become more conscious. For example, a discussion becomes heated and we feel ourselves becoming offended by what is being said. Before we speak, it is wise to check within. Are we feeling defensive or angry? Are we feeling disrespected? Can we offer our perspective in a way that may calm tempers and shift the tone of the discussion? When we speak, what is our intention?
Our Choices Reflect Our Intention
Our intention is reflected in our choice of words. It is amazing how powerful this choice is. For example, consider the difference between chatter and rant used as words to describe a comment you’ve made. Chatter is defined as trivial or idle talk. Rant is defined as pompous or overblown speech. Neither word is a compliment. So, it is important to be mindful enough to choose words that will not insult the other person if what we want is a meaningful dialogue.
The Outer Reflects the Inner
Our choice of words is a reflection of our intention. The outer expresses the inner and that is why we need to be willing to examine our intention and we need to be willing to listen carefully to the other person and observe their body language and tone of voice. What they are expressing reflects their inner selves as well. If we are compassionate, we will try to put aside our ego needs and listen with love.
If what the other person is expressing is negative, we need to remember that behind all negative attitudes, there is fear. Where there is fear, there is pain. Perhaps they cling to certain beliefs because their whole world would fall apart if they even considered an alternative. We all experience this, so the question is: When we are listening to someone who is expressing a view we find irritating or offensive, can we remember that we are hearing their pain and can we also consider that our negative response may be coming from our pain.
Be Open To Learning
Schopenhauer said, “Truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second it is violently opposed; Third, it is accepted as self-evident.” There was a time when mankind laughed at anyone who suggested the earth was round. We all evolve and our understanding of life hopefully evolves too. When we find ourselves quickly dismissing another’s ideas, it may be a good idea to explore the possibility that a truth lies hidden beneath what we consider the chatter or the rant.
Setting the intention to listen and speak compassionately primes us to be more mindful and respectful. Who knows—maybe the next outrageous idea we hear, in six month’s time, will be the answer to a major dilemma in our lives.
© 2013 Georganne Spruce ZQT4PQ5ZN7F5