11 February 2010

Thursday Resource: "I Heard What You Said, But That’s Not What I Thought You Meant!"

A guest post from Benjamin Hall, a community minister affiliated with Bell Street Chapel in Providence, Rhode Island:
Think about the last week or so of your life. First, remember the best moments. What was it that made them good? Notice any common thread between them. Next, think about the worst moments. Again, notice what it was that made these moments bad, and whether they have anything in common with one another.

OK, ready? I’m guessing that some of those high and low points had to do with relationships with other people, whether family, friends, sweetheart (past, present, or future), co-workers, classmates, or complete strangers. When you think about it, so much of our lives involve relating to other people.

In many cases, what separates the high points from the low points is communication: did you feel understood, or did the other person completely not get where you were coming from? Did you really hear what the other person or people were saying, or did you jump to a conclusion without checking it out fully?

It might sound like I’m talking about pretty basic ABCs of how to communicate with fellow members of the human race, but I’m not. I’m guessing that most people reading this, if not all of you, have highly developed skills of communication and interrelationship, and are able to read subtle signs in others. And yet, I’m guessing that practically all of us still have moments when we wonder, “What the hell just happened? How could something so simple have gone so wrong? What’s going on?”

And it’s more than just individual interactions, too; it’s whole relational patterns that seem to develop in your life over and over again, even when you’ve seen before that they don’t really pan out how you wish they would, and you’re good and ready to put them behind you forever. But they keep coming up.

No matter how smart or clever or brilliant or insightful you are, you can never quite see yourself as others see you. Not that you would want to model yourself after the expectations or perceptions of others, but because so much of your life and happiness depends upon your relationships (see above), it helps to know how others read you and how this affects their behavior toward you. In other words, other people can help you learn a lot about yourself!

But, if you think about it, how many settings are there, really, in which you can give and receive this kind of relational feedback?

Excuse me, Mary, but it sounds to me as though you are making some assumptions about who I am and what I’m thinking, and I’d prefer it if you’d just check those out with me first so we can be sure we’re really understanding one another” isn’t the kind of statement that most of us can imagine making (or responding to!) at an average party, dinner table, bus stop, cafe, or water cooler.

That’s where an intentional, supervised group can help: everyone’s in the same boat, and everyone’s there to learn and grow. Everybody deals with the awkwardness (though in very different ways), and everybody has the chance to develop ways to support others and ask for support themselves along the way.

It’s like a laboratory of relationships: it’s a controlled environment, so the stakes are relatively low (what’s the worst thing that could happen?), yet the potential benefits are extremely high (learning how to relate to others in ways that are more fulfilling and less disastrous).

People of any age, gender, ethnicity, life situation, and other demographical category can benefit from such a group. Some people prefer a diverse group, while others appreciate the support they find among peers with a shared perspective.

I am starting three Relational Learning Groups (in Providence), including one limited to young adults 18-25 years old.
The challenges faced by people at this time of life, including (or seen through) the central project of forging an identity separate from one’s family-of-origin (without necessarily departing from or rejecting it), give a lot of potency to having peers who “get it” firsthand. The other two groups--a general Relational Learning Group, and one for men only, might be of interest to those of you older than the 18-25 year old range.

I invite anyone to contact me to find out more about the groups, or for any other reason.

Ben can be reached at
bh (at) livebyheart (dot) com.

To comment, please click the "comments" speech bubble on the left.

blog comments powered by Disqus