Sunday, February 26, 2017

More on Listening: Understanding

       A few days ago I wrote about the importance of working hard to hear one another more deeply.  I wrote from a very academic place, however, rather than a personal one.  The day I wrote the post though, I was reminded of what a personal thing it is to really hear and understand one another.  As I said the other day, it can be very hard to really hear one another to the core of our being.  But what I didn't say was that part of what makes hearing someone's heart so difficult is that it is sometimes hard to even share a basic understanding with one another.  We speak different languages and even within those languages different dialects.  But what's more, even when our language is the same, we speak differently and understand differently.  Just the differences I found in the way people communicate between CA and OH were astonishing to me. But even within states and within areas, within subcultures and within similar life styles and world views it can be very hard to understand one another.
      There is a person in my life, someone I interact with on a weekly basis, who I just plain miss in the sense that I regularly misunderstand what she is saying. I find my interactions with this person to be incredibly stressful for me because I know I often misunderstand.  I try hard, I try to offer support and presence, and I just don't do it well.  Almost weekly this miscommunication happens with this individual.  It's gotten to the point where I find I don't even want to talk around her because I know I will say something that will show how little I have understood and my lack of understanding always offends or hurts or in some other way upsets her with the reality of my lack of "getting it".  I don't know why this is the case.  Mutual acquaintances seem to understand both of us just fine.  But my interactions with her consistently include communication from her that I have misheard or just responded inappropriately to what she has said.
       On the other side, there is another individual in my life (who I fortunately don't interact with very often) who always mishears me.  I feel like I am speaking clearly, but this person indicates that the messages I am communicating with him are always heard very differently than what it is I am trying to say, what it is I think I am saying.  And again, I don't know why.  We have many mutual friends and acquaintances in common who do not seem to have this trouble with either of us.  What is it about the way we each present ourselves or hear others that makes our communication so very, very difficult?
        When I think about how hard it is to communicate with these two people, people who are in my same world in terms of language, economics, education, cultural background, area of interest even, and location, it amazes me that people across the world are really ever able to understand one another. The wars and fights we have had with people of other cultures and experiences are not so amazing when you realize how hard it can be to understand the person next door.  What is amazing is not that we struggle to understand differences. What is awesome and wondrous is when people of differing backgrounds and cultures and experiences do understand one another.  When people across the world can work together and learn from one another and see one another, it is utterly fantastic and, frankly, miraculous.  That is something worth celebrating!
       We can all work harder to understand one another.  We can all try to hear below the words people are saying to the messages they are really trying to communicate.  We can all strive to honor our differences and to remember how they affect the way we speak so we can listen better.  It can be hard work.  But the ability to hear, the joy in listening and learning from someone who is different, the gift in experiencing other worldviews, thoughts and feelings - these are gifts worth the reach, work the effort, worth the work.
        Today I am taking the lessons I have been given from the person I struggle to understand as well as the one who does not understand me - I am taking those gifts for what they are: reminders of the necessity of taking the time and effort to try to hear and see.  They also help me, once again, to find deep gratitude for the times when communication does flow easily, and when laughter, information, feelings, thoughts, love and care connect us.