Do I feel that I must be like another person to gain their credibility, trust or connection? Could another motive be at work?
I was unloading to a friend about an embarrassing faux pas I had committed.
“I know just how you feel. Why, just the other week . . .” he began and, immediately I felt canceled out. His attention had shifted squarely to himself. Of course, he meant well: he wanted to gain my trust, be in the “same boat” with me. But the effect was the opposite of what he intended. I didn’t want him in my boat; my boat was already too crowded.
Later, at my chaplain job, an African‑American patient asked me to pray. (I’m Caucasian.) I felt I ought to repeat Jesus’s name frequently in my praying because I’d heard black preachers do that. Shouldn’t I do the same to gain his and his family’s connection? Harmless probably: good intention.
Later though, it bothered me, and I sensed that, like my friend earlier in the day, I was manipulating things to gain their trust. Couldn’t I have just prayed my way and trusted God to do the connecting if it was genuine?
The Tale Wagged
To feel that I must abandon who I am to be understood by someone else will sabotage authentic relationship. But, at the same time, it’s equally unsuccessful to just barrel down my road, my own “radio” blaring loudly, unaware of others’ ways of being and communicating.
The way out of this dilemma is to balance two alertnesses: an inner attention to myself and an outer attention to the friend I’m with — and wider circumstances as well.
It’s like stereo: in one of my mental “ears” is an earbud monitoring me, and in the other ear, an earbud listening to you. If a pianist playing a Bach fugue can have a different melody going on each hand, surely I can learn to do this. I CAN avoid having my right hand capitulate to my left hand: MY self doesn’t have to echo — or ignore — YOUR self.
The process is even useful when “listening” (connecting) to the wind in the trees, my pet, music, books, films, etc. I mean, a part of myself lets go, and enters the experience, while another “stays put,” content to be in my own skin, welcoming the wind or that new puppy into my experience without losing myself entirely into the other.
Some people do this easily, but it’s hard for me. Boundaries again. Chameleons try to disappear in order to (uh-oh!) get what they want.
Yeah, but how do we put it into practice?
Do you relate to people in stereo?
Can you listen to your inner voice with one “ear,” while paying close attention to what someone else is saying and doing and being?
If this doesn’t come naturally to you, experiment with relating in stereo; after all, we don’t really know anyone well enough to agree too readily (pretend to be like them) or argue (try to persuade them to be like us).
If you’re already good at this, congrats: help someone like me learn how to be better at it.