When I was a young girl, my father brought this sign home to hang by our rotary phone. At the time I didn’t really know what it meant, but nowadays I find myself thinking of this little piece of advice quite a bit, and more importantly, trying to engage my brain before I plough full steam ahead into some conversations.
I love observing conversations because the words and actions can have so many covert messages even when there is the best of intentions. I’m very wary of this when I am talking to our children about their experiences or life decisions. In the past few years I have watched my step-children grow into beautiful young adults and I have listened to the decisions they have been making in their life and trying to engage in conversation that supports them and not necessarily directs them. This hasn’t always been easy because I have already walked their road as a young adult myself and I so desperately want to tell them what to do based on my experience! At times it can be so hard to just listen, be still, and not give advice on what I think they should or shouldn’t do! So hard. However although I might disagree with some choices, as long as they are safe, then they are their choices to learn from and they have the right to make them. Too often when we give unsolicited advice to others the message is actually “I don’t think you are capable to reach this outcome on your own therefore I have to tell you what to do” which can be pared right back to “you’re not good enough”.
For many years I had a friend who was in a very unhappy marriage. She had tried several times to leave her partner, but they always ended up back with each other and the cycle would begin again. We would meet up for a coffee and I would spend my time simply listening to her problems and acknowledging her feelings. She didn’t need me telling her each time she had to leave him, or what services were available to help her, or how terrible her partner was – she already knew that. She just needed someone to listen and be still. Be present to her in the moment. She didn’t need me to rescue her (I couldn’t anyway) she just needed me to listen without judging and to trust she would find her way eventually. I knew that if I constantly told her to simply leave him for the last time, and she didn’t, our coffee meetings would eventually end because she would no doubt prefer not to have yet another person in her life reminding her that she had made some bad choices. I’d rather give the message of “I love you regardless” than “I’m telling you this (my advice) because I love you”. The second message says you’re not capable of doing this yourself. If I truly want to practise unconditional love then I have to learn to only give my advice if it has been specifically asked for, and even then I had better make sure my brain is well and truly engaged!
I certainly hope my brain engagement doesn’t equal long pauses in my conversations with others… There may well be times when you can actually hear my cogs turning. I want to be more cognizant of how my words truly reflect my thoughts, and therefore if I change my words can I also affect my beliefs? I know Kermit said it’s not easy being green, but as a learner, I can also claim that at times it’s not easy being unconditional!