On the Habit of Finding Better Words Part 3

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(continued from On the Habit of Finding Better Words Part 2)

I cannot tell you how many amazing, articulate, expressive people I know who are still recovering from chronic self-doubt born of their inability communicate effectively with people who just weren’t open or listening.

It didn’t matter how many ways they tried to say it. When we are not open and we are not listening, we cannot hear and we will therefore never be able to understand.

And, this is where I hone in on the fact that there is a palpable and important difference between “not trying at all” and “surrendering outcomes” when you do try.

To try to “find better words” for the sake of forwarding our needs/agenda, which can include a strong desire to keep a marriage together or save a friendship, often necessitates a kind of push to change someone in mind, body, spirit, and/or heart. To try to “find better words” in a context of surrendered outcomes, means we offer our feelings, thoughts, stories, ideas etc. with love and sincerity – with the very openness with which many of us hope to be met – and then truly honour responses whatever, and exactly as, they are.

There is so much power in learning to walk away before we are totally broken and have so much farther to go to heal than if we’d accepted plain – even plainly offered – truths sooner.

I watch my mind pretty carefully. When people come at me actively trying to change it, it is far more likely to want to close down in skeptical, protective, defensively derisive postures than if someone simply offers me their truth with an open heart. So, I feel compelled not only to work on my overall openness to others, but also to consider the  knee-jerk tendencies of others when I’m the one with something to share or sell.

Mostly though, I want to break the decades long habit I have of believing that it is always on me to find another way to say it when people do not understand me.

It isn’t.

It’s on them too.

It’s on both of us.

I know this because – in an exact reverse of what happens to those young kids who hit school and are suddenly called “language delayed” – I have finally surrounded myself with people who get me and who are more interested in learning new things than they are in being right or in some variant of “communication success.”

It’s an electric feeling, really.

To be able to say something once and have someone reflect back to me their understanding with an amazing follow-up question that automatically – sometimes annoyingly – deepens everything and teaches me something new…

Or which distills and reflects the thought back to me in words that are even better than those with which I first offered it…

I think I had taken some of the extraordinary gift of these humans for granted.

It feels so good to just be met where I am…

A full-circle echo of the sweet seamlessness of saying “ayana” and being cuddled that lives side-by-side with all the important skills of communication I’ve learned because not everyone was going to understand “ayana.”

And, now that I see the distinctions between “expression” and “understanding,” between “people who meet you part way” and “people who don’t (for whatever reason),” I am going to do my damnedest to fill my personal life with the people who show up.

The people to whom I need not endlessly explain myself or for whom I must endlessly find better words.

The people who want to understand me even if I’m not yet making sense and help me get there with kindness, with illuminating questions.

The people who allow me to do the same for them.

Reciprocity, care, affection, mutual inspiration, love.

I never want to let anyone into the deeper part of my life again who triggers that age-old feeling in my body that thinks like this: “Well, maybe if I say it this way, they will hear me? They will understand? They will stop behaving in ways that  – deliberate or not – hurt me all the time?” I don’t want to lose myself on a rushing river of texts, emails, and conversations that might offer me little ego thrills and “breakthroughs” but still go nowhere, change nothing.

Because I am where I am.
And they are where they are.

I want to do my level best to avoid personal connections which leave me with an entrenched sense that I’m just not very good at expressing myself when that is flat out not true.

The key is really to distinguish clearly between my art and work and my personal life. For my art and work, honing my expression and capacity to communicate, especially in support of others, is an inherent and enjoyable part of the process. In my personal life, I’m going to consciously, thoughtfully restrict the amount of time I spend endlessly repeating myself using “different” or “better” words when someone doesn’t understand me. In fact, I’m going to use that very compulsive desire to “find better words” as a flag on the play; a prompt to take a breath and pause before I use my already chronically exhausted brain for anything else in an exchange with them.

If I am dealing with a person who ostensibly respects and/or cares about me, I just shouldn’t have to work that f–king hard.

If it’s an important topic to them, and my thoughts matter to them, they’ll come after me for more. They’ll want to “fix it” too and I’ll do another check-in with myself to see if I have the energy to give.

I am also quite sure that no one should have to work that hard with me and that I will be all up in your face if I really want to know what you think or need, if I require more to understand something.

From this powerful and potentially life-changing rabbit hole I fell into I can see that it all boils down to this:

My ability to express myself is an entirely distinct action from someone else’s ability to understand and – in my personal life – I will endeavour to no longer internalize responsibility for the latter whereby I inevitably wear myself down to an arid husk of self-battery about the former.

I will save my ability and desire – my habit – to “find better words” for when it might actually do some good. I will embrace it when it makes me a better writer and artist, when it helps me to serve people who have asked for my service. I will use it when I need to with the “ayana” people in my life who have already shown me that they “get me;” that they understand me even when I don’t, even when I am exhausted, hungry, crazy, heartbroken, frazzled, mind-full-and-overflowing.

To those people – and I hope you know who you are but will try to be more clear if you don’t – thank you, so, so much, for never making me repeat myself for no good reason.

Thank you for helping me to “find better words” when I actually need to.

Thank you for an image of a world that can actually see me, hear me, meet me half way.

At least some of the time.

2 thoughts on “On the Habit of Finding Better Words Part 3”

  1. This.

    A powerful idea that lands in that truth spot and resonates in interesting ways. I wonder how it couples with the note I unpacked from a moving box today that reads, “hiw do we invite others to trouble their understanding?”

    I think I often get stuck in that space, where instead if expressing myself as if someone is listening, I assume they are not. Maybe also this is why I write less these days – I am too tired to argue.

    Thank you for this.

    • Thank you for reading this series. It actually meant a lot to me to wake up and be reminded that I’d even written it and then to be able to share it with you.

      Having been raised by a man whose most powerful and default communication tool was “DEBATE,” it definitely takes a while to recover and unhook from the habit of feeling the job is to change minds… “have our view heard”… “educate”… But I suspect that we both landed adjacent to where we need to be when we first met… Though no place is perfect, I think there is a lot to the idea of simply privileging the sharing of stories. Just sharing. Just putting it out there and what happens, happens??? I dunno’… As always, I suspect the hard part is always that true “surrender of outcomes” is muuuuuuuuuuuuch harder than it seems, lol.

      Per your last thought, I really do enjoy playing with the idea of sitting down to write where I post to the wall in front of me something that says:


      … or some variant of that.

      It’s kind of terrifying, really. Sometimes I think I am able to “get things out” because I’m really only writing for myself but more and more I feel that it isn’t enough to actually *keep* it to myself; I feel that I have a job to do that requires I share things maybe?? But, mostly, the idea of writing as though everyone is listening conjures the follow-up: What would I talk about if I *knew* everyone was listening?

      Anyway! I hope you find other little lovelies in all the boxes as you sink into your new space. HUGS.


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