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Do they contradict each other?
Or do they actually require each other?
The purest conversation is equal input/equal output: listening and letting whatever comes at you or into you flow right back out of you.
Our culture doesn't actually encourage the purest form of conversation. It doesn’t encourage listening.
I only even became conscious of it, myself, after pursuing acting full-time.
Think about the rants that people subscribe to and like, the speeches that bend the facts and ignore the questions...
The ways we "express ourselves."
Our culture encourages tantrums. We'd never call them tantrums, but that's exactly what they are.
Tantrums are a natural reaction when input overwhelms us. We see it with neuro-diverse minds who put their hands on their ears and hum really loudly if they’re overwhelmed by incoming stimuli.
Neuro-typicals do it too. It just looks different on them.
The point at which listening becomes difficult, at which someone is saying something that either triggers us or shakes the foundation of our identity or scares us... that’s the point when we have a choice of how to react.
We can 1) drown the stimulus out. (Like putting our hands over our head and humming ...) For a neuro-typical example, that would be like if we repeat our core beliefs without prompting or make sweeping generalizations about the unliked stimulus so that we can make it an "other" and distinguish it from ourselves. These generalizations could be about race or gender or they could just be about patterns. “You’re always doing this.” “Everything’s always about you.” “You never listen to me.” They're broad, sweeping strokes that leave many of the details overlooked. Deliberately.
Number one is the most rewarded in our culture with likes and follows and ratings... It’s get something out there for an audience to find. Then, that audience can continue the same pattern, drowning out any input that unsettles them or disrupts their sense of self, by blasting someone else' extroversion of their same core beliefs—all while never letting themselves listen or be affected by a viewpoint of which they don't subscribe —ultimately not only halting our evolution but effectively alienating ourselves from the world.
One tantrum enables another. They spread like wildfire in this technological age.
The second option is that we can 2) shut down. Too much input could make us freeze. In this reaction, we become silent, disengaged, seemingly apathetic. Anyone who has been the collateral too much in their life of a repeat #1 reactor is likely to react with number two instead, just as an attempt to strike balance.
I took this action quite a bit in my life. I’m a big disengager. Our culture doesn't discourage this response, because it's such a passive action, but I don’t think our culture encourages it either. We have a biological need to be heard, and yet, with this response, we retreat within ourselves, vocalize nothing, and then wonder why we’re so unheard...
“Shutting down” doesn’t turn off our capability for #1. It fills the scale with all the pent-up potential energy beneath the surface... and all it means is that when the surface finally cracks and the explosion occurs, most people are going to lean towards “Wtf?” or “...that was uncalled for...” or however they convey their lack of understanding for something that was never demonstrated or explained to them because it was never actively measured on the scale (just pushed under the surface).
These are the options out of balance...
But it is possible to aim for balance.
To listen when it’s difficult. To listen when it makes you want to break down and cry. To listen when the biggest bubble of anger swells in your chest and you think you might hit someone or break something.
Listen to them, but listen to yourself too. Both can have your attention.
Strike a balance.
Acknowledge yourself. Acknowledge your impulses. Let them exist.
They make us human. They mean we’re alive.
Do we have a right to express ourselves? Of course we do.
Do we have a right to hurt others with words or otherwise because "they made us angry?" No.
Taking action on our impulses alone is not balance. If we’re not balanced, we’ll lose touch with who we are. Ironically, we’ll end up losing our ability to express ourselves over time, because we'll be losing our credibility and our trust with the world.
True expression is part of a pure conversation. It's part of listening.
I've been arguing with someone close to me quite a bit lately, and I, of course, have a very easy time pinpointing when he stops listening. He starts yelling and storms off—totally the hands-on-ears-plus-loud-humming neuro-typical equivalent. One fight can last us a week or more sometimes. So, for this past fight, I decided to start noting for myself, without judgment, when I stopped listening to him.
The "without judgment" part is crucial. It was crucial to be able to realize and acknowledge to myself, "Hey, I'm definitely not listening to him right now... BUT, I don't want to. Observed. Noted. I'm going to keep looking out the window and revel in the awkward silence because this silence doesn't make me angry and he does..."
But whether I do anything about it or not, the simple act of observing whether I'm listening does start to change things. Suddenly, after giving myself this simple observation task, I saw more of him and his perspective, I felt more able to predict when was about to check out, when he was jumping to a conclusion opposite of what I was trying to say... and it was by listening to him that I was suddenly far more able to express myself. I suddenly knew how to clarify his understanding and make sure it was the idea I was trying to communicate.
We’re never actually expressing ourselves outside of a pure conversation. Because no one’s listening on the receiving end. No one's going through the same process. They're just hearing what they want to hear, reflections of themselves and their own thoughts—that's why we get interpretations of events and speeches that can vary so widely from person to person, merely because people aren't actually listening.
We should know what causes these feelings in us. We should be able to hear it without shouting something derogatory to drown it out or taking an action that could hurt someone.... we should be able to hear it, let it change us, and acknowledge that change. Without judgment. And we should let it go, express it, let it pass through and out of us. Not because we acted on it, but because we acknowledged it and let that part of ourselves feel heard.
If any two people of any belief system, any religion, any identity, could sit in a room together and have a pure conversation, our world would shift.
How sad that we have the technology at our fingertips to change this world.
But not the balance within ourselves to use it.