I overhear a lot of conversations that become arguments, and I just want to smack my head because, as an outside observer, it's so clear to me why the two parties are having a difficult time communicating. Why, in fact, a pretty benign topic can become a full on argument. Often it really boils down to intention. What's your intention? What are you trying to communicate? What's your goal? What do you want to get out of this communication/interaction?
There's a plague out there. Unsolicited advice--or, advice you didn't ask for--is often the first thing that comes out of someone's mouth when you talk about anything bad going on with you. And here's the thing--you probably do it too; I sure know that I do, and I struggle not to. It's an issue of leadership because it's an issue of communication and boundaries, and it also crosses over into pastoral counseling as well. It's certainly an issue that can impact how we function together within communities.
Unasked-for advice happens on autopilot, and here's how it usually plays out.
The Pagan net has been abuzz after beloved and noted elder, Luisah Teish said some not so polite things about the trans-community on Tuesday. Some took offense, others defense, while those who took no side were in for quite the show. In the end it wrought in its wake a lot of old discussions and old wounds. Before I knew it I was left feeling like we (the community) dropped the ball and that we failed to protect our own.
We all know people who talk so much that they don’t seem to take any time to draw a breath. I seem to know a lot of people like that, but perhaps it is cultural. I live outside the New York metropolitan area. People here are - by my standards – high strung. If I want to be part of any conversation, I have to do something that was considered rude when I was growing up: I have to interrupt and talk louder than the person next to me. Not everyone I know is like that, but at least half of my friends are “talkers.” I don’t know the correlation between word count and extroversion, but I suspect its on the positive scale. Certainly the sheer noisiness of all that talking can be exhausting for a confirmed introvert like myself.
In stark contrast stands the laconic silence and one word answers of some of my mother’s childhood friends. Any attempt at conversation on my part - including asking questions - is likely to leave me feeling like I’m babbling. In neither case do I feel like I’m communicating. Talking and communicating aren’t the same thing. Communication requires some sort of mutual exchange. But sometimes I feel like there is more communication in the brief email messages my boss and I send each other, than with the people I speak with face to face.
My wife and I just returned from PantheaCon in San Jose. It was our first time attending the event, and we were very impressed. It's easy to find things to complain about, especially at an event this big, but one thing that impressed me is how few complaints I heard - at least about anything substantial.
Complaining can be a natural reaction to disappointment, frustration and other emotions; the lack of it spoke volumes to me in a couple of respects. For one thing, it indicated that the people who put on this convention really got it right. It was well organized, communication was clear (the map, list of events and daily updates from the "town crier" just outside the elevators were extremely well done. There just wasn't that much to complain about.
The lack of complaints also speaks to the tone set for the event in the workshops, rituals, classes, concerts and other activities. There was a sense of unity among a diverse collection of people. We were willing to celebrate our differences and learn from one another, eagerly and without prejudice.