Tuesday, February 25, 2014

He Said/She Said

Conversation is the connective tissue for all relationships. We need it to move forward, to grow, and to develop. When I teach communication courses, the entire first few class sessions revolve around the power of dialogue and the degree to which it influences us. Because it’s hugely powerful.

Communication is our relational currency. We must treat it well.

Upon realizing this truth (I mean really seeing this) over the past couple of years, I have been struck with my own neglect and carelessness in some of my relational interactions. I will boldly share with you that in the past I have felt the freedom to share about other people’s pain in inappropriate ways and with people who had no business being exposed to what I shared. I’ve made other people’s business my business. I’ve indulged in the details of other people’s pain and masked it as “concern” or “care” when reality was it played the role of the drama de jour that so-and-so just had to know about.

While this behavior was not at the constant center of my life, I was leaking humanity at an alarming rate. Anyone could see this tendency of mine popping up all over. Regretfully, I have not been an altogether safe person.

That tendency stopped working for me in a radical way, however. I believe that sometimes it takes great pain to reveal what we need to change, and one day I found myself the focus of other people’s gossip. I was already in a world of hurt at that time, suffering from nearly debilitating depression and anxiety, the soul ache of a pending divorce, and a world of shattered choices I had made. I probably felt that I deserved what others shared about me to some degree. Regardless, that’s when my awareness of wanting to do my relationships differently showed up. Things were going to change because no one deserved to feel the way I did when word got back to me.

Immediately, I was inspired to believe that none of us will ever have the full story of what’s happening for someone. Period. Let’s call this “humility.” First, coming from a place of humility means that we are keenly aware that we do not know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes even if we have experienced similar things in our life. We are not them. They are not us.

Also, we don’t have all the answers.

Second, I find that it can be all too easy to share details that are not our place to share about someone. Perhaps some of these things might seem harmless and insignificant, maybe even surface level. However, I believe living mindfully and developing healthy relationships means we give dignity to our fellows’ stories and behave in a way that builds trust. As tantalizing and tempting as it may be to share a piece of juicy information we are privy to about someone, we do them a disservice by sharing it with others. We aren’t honoring anyone in that situation. 

For me, generally, I do not feel comfortable talking about someone who isn’t present.

Huge note here: I do not do any of this perfectly. I am hugely flawed and this happens to be a specific area I consciously work on today.

I have found that social media offers us extensive fodder for gossip-y kinds of behavior. The worst thing about that kind of gossip is it’s socially acceptable. Do we consciously realize what we are doing when we say, “Oh my gosh. Did you see what _______ posted today?”

Or, take for example how many times we engage in this kind of talk:

Did you hear what happened to ________?....
She broke up with him because....
He hates his boss and he said....
She has a _______ problem and it’s out of control....
He hasn’t talked to his best friend since....

It is none of our business.

Do we want to share in communal support of friends who going through difficulties? Yes, absolutely. But sometimes we can get in the way of really loving people by meddling in the details, “playing God,” and not truly holding space for others to live out their journey with dignity. I urge us to become intentionally safe people where others walk away from us feeling honored.

If communication really is the currency of our relationships, where are we investing?

Riding With Ryan

It’s uncommon for someone to commute 62 miles from their home to their day job, I think. (And perhaps I would like to believe I am special and unique for my commute so I feel the validity to complain about it.)

Regardless, I was thrilled to find out my new apartment is exactly two blocks away from one of my favorite coworkers and his wife. He offered the idea that we carpool to work as often as possible to save on some dough and provide entertainment (we think we are hilarious) for the otherwise quite boring, long drive. We were additionally thrilled to hear that carpooling means HR offers us the bonus of specialized parking spots AND we get entered in raffles for giftcards as an incentive to carpool. Cheesecake Factory, here I come!

The first couple weeks of carpooling were filled with excitement and fun, even at the ungodly hour of 6:50am. We would greet each other with Dumb and Dumber quotes, which is divine confirmation we are meant to be friends, as we clinked our coffee to-go containers to cheers the day ahead.

But mornings started to feel much too early and uninteresting. As any sort of relationship, it got to a point where the performance nature of our morning rituals waned. It is just too damn early for cheeriness some days.

We have grown to a new state of comfortability and mutual respect that can only be rendered by trust built over time. I am learning something about vulnerability and presentness with our carpool relationship. Outside of his spouse and my partner, we experience the rawness of each other directly. First, we see each other pre-caffeinated and I can’t fathom of a more vulnerable state to be in. He sees me without make up. I see him frustrated and worked up over situations at work on our ride home. Sometimes we talk; sometimes we listen to music (driver’s choice). We allow each other to feel whatever we feel in the moment – happiness, anger, and anything between. Often times we laugh and encourage each other, and we kick each other’s ass when we’re clearly just being Mr/Miss Cranky Pants and indulging self-pity.

This is essence of authentic relationships. No performance. No perfection. No pretending. No bullshit.

I only realized this situation has been a profound learning opportunity for me this week. I’m grateful for it. It’s teaching me how to be human and imperfect. I’m trusting others again, learning that I don’t have to try to be my best version of myself to be liked and accepted. Who knew carpooling would end up being my own personal classroom.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Hammock Club

The University I work at enrolls some exceptionally talented and creative students, and the markedly awesome part about us is we empower them to launch their own ideas. I heard about a student club this week that I fell in love with:

The Hammock Club.

I immediately pictured melancholy hippy hipster kids who don't wear shoes, frowning and listening to their no-one-has-heard-of-that-band music. However, they are far, far from my judgmental idea. It’s a diverse group of students (and staff!) from all walks of life, cultures and ethnicities, ages, etc, that gathering purposefully to participate in community while chilling in a hammock. Read: Coolest.

Not only do they have a great, descriptive name, they have a great purpose statement of “being not doing.” They present hammocking as a way of life, not just a thing they do when they’re camping year round in sunny Sothern California. They host regular “hang times” and currently have 130 members. One member shared with me that they have successfully hung 35 hammocks in one tree. I saw a photo as proof. Whaaaat?

The Hammock Club focuses on connecting with each other and conversation. No one is on their cell phones. No one has their ear buds in. You might find the occasional napper but most of the time they are actively engaged with each other. 

What I additionally find admirable is they aren’t exclusive. In fact, they keep extra hammocks with them just in case a passerby heroically wants to join them. They throw interested strangers a hammock pack, teach them how to set it up between anchors, and engage with them. All are welcome.

They are simply present with each other. In hammocks.

In a culture that tends to be very us-vs.-them, exclusive, and isolated, I find this club –this idea-  to be incredibly refreshing and mindful. I just might add a hammock hang time to my list of fun for 2014.