The Conversations We Don’t Have

This month I’ve been contemplating the impact the last year has made on everyone around me. Not to ignore the possibility that I have just taken on a particularly pessimistic view, but it seems like most of the people I know have been struggling, in one way or another, more than I have ever known them to be before.

Me being me, all I feel I can do is step back and try to understand if there’s anything I can do to make it better. It’s a double edged sword, because though I feel busy with my thoughts and I feel control by distancing myself from the rawness of all the emotions, ultimately I just feel isolated, wondering whether I have any real ability to understand the minds and actions of others, especially when few people seem to be interested in talking about the questions I want to ask.

I’ve always been the most curious about people from whom I could learn the most. I don’t just mean people that got better grades than I did – but people who thought of questions that didn’t occur to me, people to saw and traveled paths that I didn’t see, people who understood the value of something that I didn’t, people who felt strength in a situation where I felt lost; It has always been the people who saw the world in a different way than I did who have always been the most precious to me.

People who were different were the ones who helped me to see what I didn’t know that I didn’t know. They were the ones who helped me to expand the lens through which I viewed the world. They were the ones who helped me better understand the value of things I wasn’t familiar with, or how to handle situations that terrified me. Even when they weren’t kind about our differences, our interactions have helped me to become wiser and stronger. And I hope that I have, in any small way, been able to reciprocate that.

However, we are still being sold a message that similarity is a sign of value and character, and it feels like we’re still buying it. One person who was extremely dear to me once told me they were scared that if they weren’t as smart as me that they felt like they were just one conversation away from being discovered that they weren’t what I thought, no matter how aggressively I tried to explain otherwise. Ultimately, they chose to leave rather than confront that. Ignoring that the kind of “smart” that is valued (whether intellectual, or financial, or technical, or creative) typically represents a very narrow slice of what intelligence actually incorporates, my own hypothesis is that our time has become so precious, in our pursuit to survive in the Western world, that we (feel like?) we have very little time and, thus, feel very little justification to spend time with anyone that doesn’t make us feel comfortable, even if it’s unintentional.

I have become increasingly convinced that the most helpful thing I can do is to shake the cage – whether metaphorically or physically – to help people take a step out of their comfort zone and have a hard conversation with someone they love.

If it makes us too uncomfortable to have a hard conversation with someone we love (or like), how do we have a productive, compassionate, difficult conversation with someone that we don’t? 

Isn’t that what this last year has been all about?

We need to reach out and practice compassion, and patience (with ourselves as much as with others) in conversations with people who love us. We need to practice compassion and patience when people approach us with those conversations.

Maybe you all do this! Maybe I’m the only one stuck. As much as I haven’t been enjoying this feeling, I think I could bear it if I knew that it was just me, and that I was the only one that needed to grow. I recently acquired a new tool to help me, and though it’s silly, it helps.

So tell me, please! Am I the only one who struggles to have hard conversations with people? Do people avoid you when you want to talk about difficult topics (things they aren’t interested in, are scared of, or things they don’t believe they have power to change), or is it just me?

From where I’m sitting, all I can figure is that we’re being told that being unable to solve a far-away problem removes our agency, and if we don’t have power to change something – in ourselves or in others – then there’s no point in discussing it. I believe, however, that the only agency that matters is our ability to broach difficult topics and have genuine conversations, whether or not they have concrete outcomes, with the people we care about. I think the greatest power we have to change anything (and everything) is to get the people who love us on our side, and to show others that we’re not so different, and that we’re all worth loving, and that love isn’t always easy – in fact, that love – platonic, romantic, fraternal – is always hard as hell at one point or another, and it’s still worth it.

Am I wrong?

What do you wish you could ask someone and get an honest (compassionate) answer? What would happen if you tried? Do you think spreading this message can help change their reaction? Do you wish it could?

Does anyone try to have conversations with you that you don’t want to have? Do you avoid them? Why? Do you have a sense of the impact that has on the other person? Is there a cost to avoiding the conversation? Do you think you understand the true cost? Is the price worth it?

Love you all,

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