Posts Tagged ‘talking with’
When I was in high school, I dated a young woman who had big plans for my future. At one point she sensed that God was calling me to be a great evangelist; at another time, a pastor of my own church. She somehow saw in me the raw material for the “godly man” she wanted to marry.
Looking back, I wonder if she ever really knew me. (It wasn’t her fault: I didn’t know me back then either.)
During one of our many phone calls, we fell to talking about some situation that flew right in the face of my limitations. I just couldn’t find my way through the obstacle at hand. She would have none of it. Instead, she quoted to me—loudly—St. Paul’s observation to the Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“I don’t know,” I stammered. “I’m more complex than you think—“
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” she boomed.
There’s that talking at again.
In my own rudimentary way, I was in the same space as the people from last week’s post. By saying “I’m more complex than you think,” I was trying to speak from my own perspective, my own experience.
But Girlfriend was speaking at. She was presuming to know my capabilities better than I did. That might have been valid if she’d spoken from a deep knowledge of me. But she didn’t. Instead, she spoke from an external standard, applying it in a way that it was probably never meant to be applied.
Contrast Girlfriend’s approach with a practice from the Quakers. For hundreds of years, they have used a method called the Clearness Committee to discern the voice of their “inner teacher” in the face of life transitions and quandaries. A person assembles five or six trusted people to hear her story and ask her honest, open questions, with no hint of leading or giving advice. The goal is to clear away the person’s mental clutter and thus allow her to hear the inner voice that will guide her toward a resolution.
Totally opposite from talking at. It even goes beyond talking with. It’s listening with. If we aim to dialogue with our “adversaries,” we would do well to listen with—entering their mindsets, thinking as they think, and asking respectful questions.
When was the last time you were talked at? Have you ever responded well to it? How’d you manage that? When was the last time you were talked with? How was it? Share your experiences in the Comments section below.
Lesson 2 from our bumper sticker of last week:
Imagine a group of recent immigrants (with limited English skills) and lifelong U.S. citizens in a room to discuss language issues. Before the dialogue has any chance to make progress, a citizen lets loose with the statement in our bumper sticker.
That’s bad dialogue practice. Obviously. But what makes it bad? There are many answers, but one in particular may help us think more clearly about how we do dialogue.
Let’s start with the basics: the people involved. Each of us is exactly one person. We bring exactly one person’s perspective to any dialogue: a perspective that feeds (and is made up of) our heritage, our experiences, our unique thought processes, our relationships, our time in history, our gifts, our faith.
Outside of hard evidence and factual statements, this is all we can bring to any dialogue. In other words, we speak from what we know. The process of dialogue is, in part, about getting to know more—specifically the perspectives, insights, histories, etc., of the other people in the room.
See how this might work in our hypothetical example. The immigrants in the room could relate their struggles with learning English, or the pain they feel when disparaged by English speakers like our bumper-sticker fellow. The citizens might share their disorientation in a suddenly multilingual culture, or their frustration when talking to tech support experts with limited English skills.
All these sentiments, even the hot-button ones, come from personal experience and—when spoken civilly and deeply heard, without defensiveness or anger—can advance the dialogue. It is sharing with.
Contrast that with “You need to learn English.” By saying this, our bumper-sticker guy is suddenly prescribing an action for someone else—whether it fits her experience or not, whether it even makes sense for her or not. He is now speaking at.
Speaking at objectifies the listener. Mr. You Need To might as well be talking to a wall for all the listener matters in this conversation. He is also assuming that he knows what’s best, not only for the non-English-speakers in the room, but for the society at large. That’s more than one person can know with certainty.
Do “you need to” statements ever have value? Sure. People in interventions can tell their alcoholic loved ones they need to quit drinking. Doctors should tell concussion victims they need to follow instructions. More often than not, however, we know less about what x should do than x herself. We can suggest, we can ask careful questions to help her find her own solution, but rarely can we get anywhere by speaking at.
As our bumper sticker (and its many cousins) make clear, we do a lot of speaking at. We need a lot more sharing with. Only through sharing with can we learn from one another, draw more perspectives into each discussion, and build the collective wisdom that, often, has the best chance of bridging divides and solving dilemmas.
I just lived through an example of speaking at, and I’ll share it next week. But what about you? When’s the last time somebody talked at you? When has someone talked with you? How did you feel in each case?