Monday, March 5, 2012

All with a little courtesy

Frequently, I hear my two small boys tell me all kinds of reasons why they need to punch each other or trip each other or take each others toys.  It's always the other one's fault and there was no discussing it because the other one should have known.  Mind reading is what I assume they are talking about.

I used to think similarly.  It was always your fault and if you loved me enough or liked me enough or even just knew me for more than three seconds you should know what I need, think, and feel.  I never communicated any of this with anyone because, obviously, it wasn't needed because you were a mind reader or at least you should be and if you weren't, there was something lacking in you, not me.

I've learned otherwise, gratefully.

I have found regardless of how much fault is yours, I have my own which is where my responsibility lies, the only thing I can truly change, and you are not a mind reader because neither am I.  If I want you to know my needs, thoughts, and feelings, I have to communicate them to you.  Imagine.

Another thing I've learned, which is extremely beneficial, is it is helpful if I communicate with courtesy.  I have a much easier time of it.

For example, both children come to me with alligator tears and loud explanations on why it's brothers fault.  I listen and then ask simple questions.  They don't like my simple questions because they want to tell me their sad stories with all the right dramatics and convince me of their unfortunate lot in life.  I'm more about getting the facts of the situation and setting the emotions to the side for the moment.  Emotions are important - they need to be felt and known, but they can also be misleading, primarily because they are personal to the person feeling them, they are bias by nature.  Emotions will never give me the full picture.  I need the facts, to be informed, how else can I make an informed decision?

The boys do give me the facts, haltingly of course, because they already know what they've done and know the truth.  They just don't want to see it because they want what they want.  And then we talk about what could have been done differently, mostly communicating with one another with courtesy, of course.  I remind them they are learning and they'll get it, it just takes practice.  I even admit I am still learning, practicing how to "play well with others" because sometimes I don't want to.  Because, sometimes, I just want what I want too.  We smile and laugh about it and move on, practicing our new tools we picked up which we'll set down later to pick up again.

For me to communicate with others, especially with courtesy, I have to set aside what I "want" and be willing to listen, to weigh and consider, to respect the interchange of two people having a discussion.  I have to be honest with myself, which is a whole other topic for another day, and know what I need not just what I want.  I've learned I don't have the right to be mad when someone doesn't accommodate my request, if I've made one.  Their answer is only information after all.  I always have other choices to look at, a plan B to implement.  Where I can get stuck is in not wanting to look at my other choices because the other choices are uncomfortable or scary and it would be easier if the other person would just change or do it differently, so I wouldn't have to.

I figured out several years ago, gratefully with the help of some good friends, I had nothing to lose by trying new communication skills, so I tried them, and low and behold they worked.  I used to try and convince others of my plans for their lives or how they needed to present themselves to me in my life, and I always had a heck of a time with it.  I wanted good relationships with others, to be understood, to be listened to, to be loved by someone I loved, to be honored.  I rarely, if ever, received such blessings.  And why would I?  I wasn't willing to give the same back.  I really didn't want to understand anyone else, but I sure wanted them to understand me.  I really didn't want to listen to someone else or to honor them, but I sure wanted what I obviously couldn't give.

And love?  Did I ever really love anyone?

I did to the extent that I could, but I could never move deeper or stick with it because I was too busy squeezing the life out of it with my death grip because I was certain they would leave me for some reason or another.

My answer was the opposite of what my fear told me.

I needed to give what I so desperately wanted, and I needed to give it without demand.  And the first person I had to begin with was me.  I had to honor myself, to love myself - truly love myself - and then I could give something worth giving.  A paradox of sorts and one where there is a fine line between self-respect and self-indulgence and yet the answer is there if I'm honest.  Honesty is not an easy word or an easy concept to live by, but it's real and it's worth it.

If I create an environment within myself where I can grow and love and be myself, I can take that out into the world and give it to others.  I can communicate with courtesy because I'm not consumed with fear: fear of what you think of me, fear of what might happen, fear of never being loved, fear of being inadequate, fear of being unlovable.  To grow and love and be myself requires me to be honest with myself, to know myself as I am and be accepting of that and be willing to move toward what I could and can always be.

My boys still battle things out sometimes but in the middle I've heard them work it out, communicate with courtesy, mend their own damage, and move on with one another with laughter and joy.  Their ability to communicate with each other began with me communicating with them which began with someone communicating with me, all with a little courtesy.