By Kellie Schorr
“Words! Words! Words
I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?”
Eliza Doolittle, My Fair Lady
We all grow up believing in certain myths: the odd generosity of the tooth fairy, the evident sainthood and probable magic of our kindergarten teacher, and the notion we will understand things when we grow up.
Then we grow up and we believe in different myths: superfoods, repeatedly hitting the elevator button will make it go faster, and the idea that all we need is a little more communication.
We’ve been marketed communication with the same Saturday Morning zeal that Kellogg’s marketed us sugary cereal (part of a well-balanced breakfast).
Relationship problems? You need to work on your communication.
Employment problems? You need to communicate better at work.
Emotional problems? Express yourself.
Spiritual questions? Talk to your teacher/lama/preacher.
Social Problems? Call them out, create awareness.
Children Issues? Blog about it.
Parent Issues? Call your momma.
We are a culture steeped in words. Books and blogs, pamphlets and posts, retweets, talk shows, ads and memes surround us like sensory oxygen. With all that communication, we aren’t getting any better. Loneliness is at an all-time high. Politics, religion and food choices—things that reflect our deepest heart—cause great division among us. The “generation gap” isn’t just quirky; it’s become a chasm of angry and demeaning rhetoric where Boomers and Millennials hack at each other using sharp barbs and dull knives in a never-ending blame game.
We talk more, and mean less.
Communication simply isn’t enough. It is a one-winged dove, beautiful on one side and marred on the other, unable to fly. We are missing the other wing: comprehension.
We throw words at each other like children at a snowball fight. We tell the world what we think then duck back down into our little fort as their words sail over our heads. The only time we really try to catch them is if we think we can somehow throw them back. If we’re honest we’ll admit nothing satisfies like hitting someone with their own words.
Comprehension is the ability to understand or apply meaning. It’s not as easy as communication. Packing a snowball for flight is one thing. Unpacking a comment, whether it is thrown, served like tea or given as a precious jewel, is something else. It takes energy, investment and time. It is everything we need right now. How do we add this missing wing to our practice? Show me.
“Here we are together in the middle of the night!
Don’t talk of spring!
Just hold me tight!”
Words in Action
To create comprehension in your circle, you have to do more than communicate through words. You need to breathe life into your concepts that will make them undeniably real. I may listen to you talk about your daily meditation on compassion, but when I see you give, forgive, or listen I will understand what it means to you. As a friend of mine said in her wedding vows, “I will love you, honor you, and you know I’ll clean out the litter box every day.”
Comprehension requires words and actions to match. If we want to feel like our sadness is validated, we can’t plaster on a fake smile as we share it. We hide behind sarcasm, self-deprecating humor, internet anonymity, and “likes.” When you take the risk to be authentic in your actions as well as your words, you won’t just be heard, you’ll be understood.
Acknowledge Your Filter
How can people who live, laugh, and love know so little about the other? Because we type, chat, and talk all the time, but our words often come out with all the clarity of a drive-thru window.
“I’d like a number 5 meal.”
“Djuouftds, dfsw, afdjout?”
(“Would you like sauce with that?”)
We communicate through a series of filters, predominately pain, grief, and fear.
“Why are you snapping at me?”
“Just do what I say!”
(“My back hurts and I don’t have the energy to explain.”)
“I love the fall.”
“It’s just another season to me. People make too much of it.”
(“My mother died in October and it makes me miss her.”)
“What do you think about gun control laws?”
“They’ll have to take my gun out of my cold, dead hand.”
(“I feel afraid and this gun makes me feel stronger.”)
Whether we are the one speaking or the one listening, being mindful of the filters we all use in our day-to-day world will help us gain a clearer understanding of what is really being said. Speaking without a filter is not a license to be unkind or rude. It’s about speaking as precisely and truthfully as possible, with compassion and explanation. If you feel you must use a filter, choose a kind one.
Words with Intention
How could a communication age with so many means of sharing create such a dry and weary social landscape? Because it’s too easy. On the internet a few seconds is enough time to make someone smile, hurt someone’s feelings, spark a glorious idea, incite a rebellion, uplift a possibility, crush a dream or make a typo. So many typos. By the time you sit and think about what you said, it’s already been shared.
Marriages have the same challenge. The person you’re talking to is in the bed beside you. You can say anything without effort or forethought. The three little words often transform from “I love you” to “I was wrong.” Trust me, those are very important words to any relationship, they just don’t get as much press.
In Buddhism we are encouraged to start every day with an intention. What is the goal of my heart for today? What do I want to give to the world? What goodness can I bring? Much in the same way, to create comprehension your words should have intention as well. What do I want my partner to hear? What do I want this comment I’m typing to do? How do I want our Skype time to make my grandkids feel?
The more intentionally we communicate, the more likely true comprehension will take place. Then, your dove can have both wings and your world will be ready to fly.
“Don’t talk of June.
Don’t talk of fall.
Don’t talk at all!
“Show Me” from My Fair Lady. A.J. Lerner and F. Loewe, Columbia Records,1956.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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- Walkin’ After Midnight: A Two-Step for the Path of Change - March 31, 2021