Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rethinking Love

For all my hermitishness, I put a high value on communication: on expressing myself articulately, in a way that is easy for others to understand, whatever their relationship to me; and on understanding other people accurately and compassionately, whatever their personal communication style or emotional make-up.  That has meant a lot of time reading about and practicing different communication styles, often forcing myself rather far out of my comfort zone.  It has meant a lot of time listening carefully, and watching, often much more closely than people realize, the relationships between an individual's words (or lack thereof) and actions, the relationship between their emotions and their words or actions, or even in figuring out which emotions are honestly behind various words and actions (which are not always the same as the emotions that appear on the surface--anger, for example, is often a mask for hurt feelings or deep insecurities).  It is quite a difficult thing, human communication, and no two individuals are the same. On top of that, my own communication style, feelings and emotions, and personal frailties all affect my perceptions and actions, but I try very hard and am getting better. I still have a long, long way to go, but  I seldom have miscommunications with people any more, and when I do they are generally minor.

But there are tough cases for me, people that I really struggle to communicate with.  There are individuals that I can enjoy time with, as long as we stick to simple, easy stuff. I have never figured out how to communicate with them when there is any conflict or difference without hurting their feelings or angering them.  I have tried to make changes in my communication approach or my perceptions many times, and I have tried to understand how things must look from their perspective, and yet somehow one or both of us still ends up angry or hurt.  Despite my efforts, there must still be big blind spots, because I keep failing. I realized recently that part of the problem is that such individuals are usually assuming the worst possible things about my motivations, intentions, and attitudes.  That was a discouraging revelation, though upon reflection I had to admit that it was at least partly my fault.  When I get frustrated and angry, my default mode is self-righteous condescension.  Too many times I let my patience expire and got snarky because I was tired or frustrated or angry--I can hardly fault someone for losing patience with me when I was doing the same thing.  However, when you have never ascribed malicious or intentionally self-serving motives to someone else, no matter how frustrating the differences, its really disheartening to find out that they have ascribed such motives to you.  Really, really disheartening.

As I thought about the various conflicts that I have had with such individuals over the years, I realized that part of the reason for the conflict was that I was trying to force the communication, force the relationship: I was, subconsciously, working from an assumption that we needed to communicate thoroughly and efficiently enough to be intimate friends.  It finally dawned on me that, while that may be the "ideal" for such relationships, it wasn't necessary, at least not now--ideals are something to strive for, not beat yourself (or someone else) over the head with.  You can love someone without being their best friend.  I kept thinking we needed to be close friends in order for the relationship to be successful, but all I really needed to do was be loving, and that can mean something much simpler than being intimates:  listen, enjoy their company even if its restricted to talking about and enjoying little things, let unintentional slights go without ever addressing them, be charitable enough to forgive rare intentional slights without confrontation or discussion, and be there if they truly need me for something.  That's it.  That's all you really need.  Hopefully, if you can be kind and patient long enough, the other person will eventually gain enough trust in your character that you can be close enough to discuss the stuff that matters, and you'll gain enough trust in their character to pull down some of the boundaries.  If you keep praying for compassion and enlightenment, and then act on it, treating those individuals with kindness, forgiveness and softness, perhaps the Lord will grant you a bit more understanding into their heart, or how to best communicate in a way that is comfortable and familiar to them.

In the mean time, remember that not all love requires intimacy--at least while we're still trying to learn how to love one another with all our human frailties.  As usual, the scriptures say it best:  "Charity suffereth long and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;  rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."

And, taking the long view, of course, "Charity never faileth."

I need to remember that.

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