Every day we wake up, and conversations begin to flow. “How can it be 7 am? I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck!”, “Sweetie, did you sleep well?”, “That 10 o’clock meeting is going to be brutal.” “I better get my butt in gear.”
Like fish in water, we are humans in conversation. Without effort through language, we make assumptions and judgments, decide who and what is good and bad, make promises and dream about our futures.
Our conversations pretty much run on auto-pilot until they don’t. And when they go awry we just as effortlessly go on tilt. “How could he have done such a stupid thing!”, “ Why on earth would a boss behave that way? Doesn’t he know better?”, “This situation is only going to get uglier.”, “I am totally screwed!”
Our conversations are what makes the world go around, yet beyond grammar, we are not taught the fundamentals of how and why they work or don’t. Most of the time we are “sleep talking.” When was the last time you consciously thought about a conversation that concerned you? What tools did you have at your disposal to reflect, understand, dissect your thoughts, reactions and emotions?
It turns out there are some important distinctions about language and conversations that aren’t all that easy to find much less apply. In my upcoming book, “Conscious Conversations,” I have gathered a set of practical and profound ideas that can move our conversations out of auto-pilot mode into a fresh enlightening look at ourselves and our interactions with others.
In this post, I am going to present one simple yet radical distinction about language that is a foundation for waking up in conversation. As with all new learning, it takes a dash of courage and curiosity to shine a light of awareness on our thinking and relational patterns. I like to use the word patterns because it is a good way to start owning our words with less judgment.
The way we engage in conversation reflects an endless supply of deeply rooted patterned thinking that we mostly adopted from the moment we were born. Firmly entrenched beliefs about how the world should be according to our family, culture, teachers, friends, and every single interaction we had. Like it or not, we did not choose most of what we cherish as the right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, and pretty vs. ugly.
These cherished beliefs mostly manifest as our personal opinions and more than we like to believe, we hold them and speak them as the truth. We only have to have an honest peek at the recent election, where strongly held opinions broke up friendships and families. “How can they vote for Trump, he is such an idiot!”, “Why on earth would you listen to Hillary? She is crooked like no other politician!” The fundamental problem with these conversations is that we are hooked and addicted to our beliefs and worse yet, we hold them as the Truth and find ourselves in battle. I am not suggesting that we give up our values or our passions, but I am suggesting that our thinking and conversations can dramatically change when we make the simple distinction between opinions and facts.
The unfolding nightmare around “fake” news is built on this fundamental error of human listening. Our ears miraculously take in information and without any effort, our faster than lightning brains connect the dots of our beliefs and create a story. A story which makes perfect sense to us (after all it aligns with everything we hold dear) and we react emotionally, all too ready to defend our position. Our patterns hold us hostage.
To undo these patterns, we need to wake up and become aware of our them. We can create a personal practice of noticing and noting in conversation the basics of the stories we tell. What is fact and what is fiction? Sounds easy, but it takes energy and courage to face this important distinction. I find it helpful at first to begin to notice your friends’, family’s, and colleagues’ patterns of reacting and defending their strong opinions. It is so much easier to see other people’s foibles rather than our own!
So let the journey of waking up in conversation begin. Be kind to yourself. Notice your patterns and gently wonder about them. “Where did I adopt that belief? Is that an opinion that I need to defend? What facts might help me shift my assumptions or assessments?” Enjoy the process of discovering yourself in conversation.
Next post I will talk about the stories we tell.
Thanks for reading and all feedback welcome!