I bumped into a friend recently that shared that she had started doing Tai Chi. I immediately got excited about sharing the experience. However, we weren’t on the same path. None of us are totally on the same path. What she appreciated about Tai Chi was not the same as what I appreciated. I know this very well at a logical level, but in the moment sometimes another emotion takes over and it is forgotten. Our experiences are sort of like taste buds. Even if we like the same food, I bet it tastes different for each of us. The texture, the smell and the actual flavor can be worlds apart.
Why does this matter? Well first of all, my Tai Chi conversation would have been a lot more interesting if I didn’t make some assumptions and I “listened” to her experience at the beginning of the conversation. I have been trying to catch myself in times of interrupting. I’m one of those people that gets excited and jumps right in. Sorry! But this is not just about interrupting it’s about listening and hearing without putting your own spin on things. It’s about allowing another person their own unique experience. I realized I may not have let her express her full Tai Chi experience and I don’t think that it bothered her because it wasn’t something with which she needed support with or had an emotional connection. At least I hope that’s true!
As I thought about the exchange, I realized that I’ve experienced this from the other end as well. It irked me at the time, but I couldn’t put my finger on why until now. Many times we don’t realize we are not helping, or worse, irritating someone. There are so many big life challenges that we or our friends have faced and we don’t always know what to say. My experience was with a well meaning friend whom I had several cancer conversations with when I was in the midst of my treatments. He was a great listener most of the time, but he thought he understood in ways he couldn’t have. He understood the surface, but not all the intense feelings and emotions because those were UNIQUELY MINE. I didn’t realize at the time that I just wanted my feeling acknowledged and respected. It’s like breaking your leg and being told how lucky you are because your cousin had his leg amputated. You know?
Sometimes out of love we want so badly to minimize a loved one’s pain. Their pain is too much for us to bear. It sounds completely selfish, but it’s really just a protective reaction. Or maybe it brings up some of our own unresolved hurt that we want to share. Well, that becomes a whole different conversation, doesn’t it?! Again, I don’t believe these things are intentional, but it’s a story I’ve heard time and again from cancer patients. It is probably more obvious to us because it’s such a long process and it’s a similar path for many of us so the fallout is also similar in many of the cases.. It’s so sad to think of friends that are lost because we weren’t really aware of what was happening in our conversations.
I am now aware from both sides. As excited as I get about a presumed connection, it’s my place to listen first and not assume to know or even understand. Your experiences, your happiness or your hurt or pain is unique to you and we need to respect that on one side of the conversation and we need to claim it on the other side of the conversation.
Go out and empower and be empowered!
With Love, Tosha