I have often vacillated between speaking and not speaking. Many times, I’ve spoken and regretted it. Other times, I’ve chosen not to speak, and found that my silence has hurt me – or worse, hurt others. Occasionally, I’ve held back for a while, allowing a little time to elapse and then tried to speak from my heart in a centered way that was not accusatory or defensive or in another way emotionally manipulative.
In my experience, the latter of those options has generally produced the best results.
And by results, I mean that I have found less cause to regret my words when this is the case. I am not referring to how others have reacted to or responded or felt about what I said.
In personal relationships, I generally err to one extreme or the other. Either I over-explain, over-state, over-emote OR I clam up and suppress my words. The result of both extremes is a disservice to self. When I over-express, I end up becoming hopelessly entangled in rambling sentences, often ending someplace completely unintended – expressing not what I hoped to convey but, rather, drifting far off-course. When I clam up, I telegraph a message of disregard to my own emotional self that what I’m feeling isn’t important enough to burden someone else with. I don’t believe that everything I feel needs to be shared, but I have learned that sometimes what I’m feeling must be conveyed to another person in order for it to be acknowledged and (hopefully) honored by both listener and speaker – sometimes this is vital for the relationship to thrive. I’ve learned the hard way that relationships do not thrive if one or both parties cannot speak from a place of truth.
In the workplace, I have often told colleagues that I know – and they need to know, too – that my first reaction is rarely my best one. The good news is, it is also rarely my final reaction. But because I know this about myself, the onus is on me to manage my response to various situations and stimuli. It isn’t really fair to ask others to differentiate whether I am knee-jerk-reacting or giving a considered response.
In political life, it is sometimes fun to pronounce a zinger that carries home my point with the surety of an arrow fired from Katniss Everdeen’s bow. When I’m discussing politics with like-minded people, that can be fairly harmless because we’re all shooting in the same direction. But I often wonder what I’ve done to the positive when these arrows are deployed against opposing viewpoints – when the whole exercise is intended to find a soft spot where my point can burrow deep behind someone else’s defenses. I know I’ve managed to wound my opponent – but have I effected a change in their opinion or position? It is a fair question to ask whether the yield is worth the wound inflicted. Often, in my experience, the answer is difficult to ascertain.
Where is the line between saying too much or too little in a polarized world? When does moderation and compromise become collusion and appeasement? When is it necessary for my own holistic well-being to speak and when should my need to speak to be sublimated to the greater good? These are questions that I find myself asking more frequently these days, and to which quick answers are not particularly satisfactory.
That said, I am slowly coming to believe that love speaks from the center.
What do I mean by that? I mean that, looking back, there are a handful of moments when I know that the words I spoke were true and meaningful and carried the full force of love. In one case, I needed to speak on my own behalf about the ways someone was repeatedly hurting me. I didn’t want to erupt in anger and hurt, but I also needed to stand up for myself and say, “This hurts.” Another instance was when talking with a friend about some personal difficulties she was experiencing. I certainly did not want to add to her pain, but to offer, with compassion, an insight that might be hard to hear. Another final instance was one in which I needed to share a differing perspective with someone in a more powerful role than me. In all three of these cases, I was anxious about what to say, emotionally desirous of a particular outcome, and powerfully drawn toward keeping my mouth shut out of fear. Instead, I took a little time – time to breathe, time to get clear on what the central issue was for me, time to relax the fight or flight response that rears up when strong emotions and fear are at play. I took the time to let go of my need for a predetermined outcome. In other words, I took the time to get centered within myself so that, when I did speak, the words could well forth with the intent of love (as opposed to intent to hurt or to control or to curry favor).
These times in which we are living require something from us. If you’re like me, figuring out what that might be is a difficult and ongoing process of discernment. But I know I will be at my best, offer my best self, when I am able to remain centered, able to access the truth and love available to me in that still place sometimes called my heart, sometimes called my soul.
That, dear friends, is why my one word for 2017 is “centered.”
Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.