Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Learn how thinking seriously about your life and the lives of others can greatly benefit your friendships and families.
A little learning is a dangerous thing
Drink deep or taste not the Pyrean spring
These shallow draughts intoxicate the brain
But drinking deeply sobers us again
— Alexander Pope
I had a good time Saturday with my friend discussing lots of philosophical, religious and metaphysical ideas. We always enjoy getting into deep conversations and that day was no exception. She presents some views that cause me to think and I bring other ideas that cause her to think as well.
All of this reminded me of a newsletter sent recently by Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out. She told about a potluck dinner she had with some friends and how it left her feeling “high as a kite,” which she said had nothing to do with the wine. This is how she describes it:
We started the evening joking around and chatting about what was new in our lives, but at some point, the conversation turned to what was truly important to us: our hopes and dreams and fears. We told stories, shared what we were most excited about, and learned things about each other and ourselves that we had never known before.
By the end of the evening, there was so much love in the room! We felt like family (a non-dysfunctional one!). We had opened up, shared ourselves, listened to each other, and really connected. And our hearts were overflowing with happiness.
The evening, she said, was “living proof of a recent study showing that people who spend more time having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem happier.” Certainly there is a time and place for “small talk.” It is a good way to discover a new restaurant to visit and a car repair shop to avoid. But to strengthen your relationships, try going a little deeper. As I say in Healing Relationships is an Inside Job, learn to listen with your third ear.
When you do, you begin to sort through your backpack, that invisible, highly expandable container you carry with you everywhere, inside of which you hold your long-held beliefs, opinions you are considering adopting, regrets, plans for the future, fear of failing, the shoulds and ought-tos that control your behavior, a sense of connection or distance between you and others, and so forth. Unexamined, it can weigh you down, unable to know what to do about it.
However, by sorting through all you have accumulated over the years that you don’t really need, you can become more like this person on the right, carrying only the essentials you need to get through the day.
On Saturday my friend and I talked about how complex this sorting-out process can be and how difficult it is to know what is really true and what we only think is true. To get an idea for how complex the process is, as I began writing today, I kept going on and on and on, adding more and more “explanations” until the post was more complicated than clear. So I will wait until another day to share other ideas for helping you explore what you believe and why.
For now, I will simply say that I believe that at the core of good communication is the clarity we have about what is in our backpacks. And that clarity only comes when we examine what we have assumed is the “truth.” So I want to give you some questions about truth as a jumping off point for connecting more deeply to those around you.
ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS
- Do I believe there is something that can be considered the final, ultimate, never-to-be-questioned-again truth? If so, what is it? How do I know that is the truth?
- When I am attempting to know the truth, how do I go about that process? For example, do I tend to believe something is true because a lot of people believe it? Do I believe something is true because I’ve always believed it? Do I believe something is true because my parents told me it was true?
- If I don’t know the final, ultimate, never-to-be-questioned-again truth, do I believe there is anyone who does? If so, why do I put my trust in believing one person rather than another?
I realize that these questions are not the kind we tend to ask ourselves. It’s much easier to act as though our opinions and beliefs are true, always have been, and always will be. But if you want to have less stress in your life, if you want to connect with others more deeply, if you want to heal some relationships that have been strained or broken, I believe it is important for you to explore your most cherished assumptions.
Of course, that is a tall order, so for today I’ll just suggest you look at one or two opinions you hold. They don’t need to be major underpinnings of your philosophy of life; just ideas that have seemed true until now. They can be ideas about religion, politics, health, education, society, or any of a dozen topics.
When you are clear about your beliefs, you can approach conversations not as combats in which to conquer the other person to your point of view, but as an opportunity to explore the ways in which your beliefs help, or hinder, your ability to feel a deeper connection with others.
Incidentally, I don’t for a moment want to give you the impression that I’ve completely cleaned out my own backpack and always stand tall and free, clear about both “my truth” and “the truth.” In other posts I will write about my own struggles, past and present, to deal with the barriers I place between myself and others. For now, however, this may give you an idea of what I have learned along the way to my continuing healing of difficult relationships.