I’ve been running into this so much lately. People wanting to have “discussions” with me that don’t really want a discussion at all…their intent is to be right. It’s an interesting approach that does nothing except put a big wedge between people. And I know I have been guilty of the same from time to time.
When I first left the church, I did this a lot. I was in such a place of anger when I first walked away. I had started down the rabit hole of unveiling the lies that I had been fed for the last 15 years. I was seeing red and not knowing who to trust. And I was mad. It took everything in me not to simply lash out at everyone who came within an arms length of me. And sometimes I wasn’t good at holding back.
As my research continued I went through a phase of “smugness”. I would engage in conversation with others still in the church just so when we got to the end of what they had to say I could point out the mistruth or the “right” answers. It took me a long time to realize a) this behavior wasn’t building any bridges; b) I can’t rescue everyone; and c) I wouldn’t “save” anyone by beating them up with my words any way.
Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.
This has been a hard lesson for me to learn. But, as I’ve moved along in the healing process I feel less and less inclined to listen to respond and more inclined to actively listen. When I actively listen I hear so much more than just the words someone is speaking. When I’m really focused on them, the person, I’m not only hearing what they say, but I also feeling the emotion behind the words as well as catching their body language and what have I found in doing this? Empathy.
And empathy goes a long way to building bridges…
Moving away from the church I experienced what most do; a breaking of relationships. Those I thought were my friends were clearly in my life because of proximity. Once I stopped going to church and church functions I didn’t see them anymore they dropped out of my life. Others didn’t know what to say to me, or were afraid to ask, so they were gone as well. A few others I will own, my anger severed the ties, and still others left on me because our conversations became contentious — both of us wanting or needing to have the last word and that last word being accepted and agreed with at all costs. But the people that remained in my life, stuck with me, I don’t want contention with them. I want peace.
Empathy doesn’t mean we adopt the other’s belief. It doesn’t mean we always agree. It means we have learned to listen. I am willing to hear their perspective, and even when it doesn’t completed meld with mine, or sometimes meld at all, I still love the person and I can at least try to understand how and what is important to them.
My best friend is a devout Mormon. Because I have so definitely left the church this can sometimes make for difficult conversations. But as I’ve grown, and she has grown, the difficulties are less and less. I think because today we both listen to hear each other’s hearts more than just the words.
I am not saying this is always possible, or that empathy should be the goal at any cost. Empathy is a two-way street, and there are boundaries to set (that’s a whole other post for the future), but I am saying there is power in demonstrating. Sometimes we have to go first and offer empathy in order to receive it. When someone knows you are listening, that you sincerely care about them, it helps build trust and when there is trust, there is less need to put up defensive walls. Less defensive walls = less contention.
For me, listening, or maybe I should say hearing, has been a source of healing. In listening with the goal of empathy, I have found I am less angry at people. People are where they are. Not everyone is at the same place, and that’s okay. I believe everyone has a story. My story has changed and evolved over the years and I need to give others the space to grow and change their stories as well. Listening has led me to better understand those I love. I’m not saying sometimes I don’t get hurt along the way, or that I don’t get triggered, sometimes I do. I tend to stay away from anyone who lashes out on purpose. Those closest to me that say things that cause me pain from time to time generally don’t do so intentionally — or they are doing it from a place of fear, or of love. I try to give the benefit of the doubt with those I love. It’s not perfect, but I will say that I am less exhausted. Being on the defensive, and sometimes on the offensive, all the time was exhausting.
I so much more enjoy being around people and stepping outside of myself to really hear them. I like this part of my healing — the building bridges part — and I especially like the diversity it brings to my friendships. How boring life was when I was only around people who believed exactly as I did. I try to remember that was one of the things I wanted to leave behind when I left the church. The sameness. We are all created uniquely — embracing that has been one of the sweetest parts of my journey so far.