Thursday, July 20, 2006

Don't Shout, I Can't Hear You Anyway

On a recent installment of the podcast, Lauren and I discussed the light, breezy subject of “love.” As has been our custom recently, we now walk around the world armed with our tiny digital recorders, grabbing soundclips from friends and passersby regarding our upcoming topic. We certainly ended up with an earful of peoples’ opinions regarding this elusive emotion. On the show, I went so far as to question whether we are really well-served looking at love as an emotion. Personally, I think we’d all be better off, if not much happier, if we focused more on behavior than on feelings.

A few people I spoke with commented on the subject of “Love Languages.” (Would our species ever have survived without the plethora of self-help books that now define and explain all life’s vagaries to us?)

It’s always been my wont to attempt to distill things down to the basics or the “funnamenals” as my high school gym teacher would call them. Treating symptoms, in my opinion, is a far cry, if not a distraction, from treating the disease. Since I’m focusing on love as a way of behaving, my diagnosis is that it all comes down to one thing – acceptance.

There, it’s done, I said it. End of story. Just go out there and start accepting, it’s that easy. Or not. More often than not love plays out as a narcissistic, “how does this make me feel” game. And just as it’s difficult to sing karaoke and eat a pastrami sandwich at the same time (two of my favorite pastimes) it would seem that getting into the business of accepting someone could be difficult when we’re so focused on how “he/she” makes us feel.

Typically, when we’re flying on our own hormones, welled-up to the brim with love, we want to shout it from the rooftops. The problem is, while we’re up there screaming out our joy, it’s difficult to listen to what someone else has to say. And how can we accept someone else if we can’t listen? I’m going to risk walking out on a blog limb here by stating that “not listening” might be one of the greatest shortcomings of our species. We’re just so swept away by the goings on in our own little psyches.

For the more mathematically minded out there, I’ll write this on the board and try not to squeak the chalk. Listening=acceptance, acceptance=love. (There are “x” factors but we’ll leave that for advanced trig.)

I often think of this small scenario. A couple is arguing. He (or she) says to the other, “I don’t think you take me very seriously.” She (or he) responds, “of course I do!” Then they go out to dinner, ultimately pondering separation. In that rather primitive drama, the person responding has made his or her complaining partner right. If, indeed, they took their loved one seriously they would never have responded, “Of course I do.” (In place of “of course I do” we’ve also heard, “you’re wrong,” “you’re nuts” or, simply, “let’s eat.”) It’s shorthand for saying, “this is about me and how I need to not hear this now, not talk about this now or simply not accept what you’re telling me.”

Okay, so it was a simplistic example. Remember, I like karaoke and pastrami. But it’s a building block to pretty much everything that’s not loving. I mean how the hell can we love someone if their experience is so easily written off by our own need not to hear it? Love Languages be damned – understanding the various ways we experience love doesn’t matter a whit if we’re too busy not listening to what’s being told to us.

And now we come to the part that runs rampant through my posts. We don’t listen because we don’t want to take responsibility for who we are and what we do. It’s just so much easier to be right. (“Of course I do.”) It takes a good deal of character and maturity to shut up and listen to what someone’s telling us about who we are, how we behave and how we might make them feel. It’s almost a reflex to shut them up with, “nuh-uh.” So it appears that it actually might take character and maturity to love, not just a large, vulnerable or achy breaky heart.

If we could step out of our own, misguided, self-interest for a moment and actually hear what someone we claim to love is trying to tell us, that person might actually feel accepted. Consider my deep drama, rewritten. “I don’t think you take me very seriously.” “Really? Tell me why.” I have to believe that as the talker explains their thoughts and feelings -- as you listen -- the talker has to become aware of the fact that they’re being taken seriously and accepted. Probably accepted enough to never have uttered the phrase in the first place. It seems empirical. Listening to someone is key to loving them.

To know me is to love me? How about to love me is to know me? Can you listen long enough and accept (no matter how whacky it seems to you) that I actually feel and believe the things I’m saying to you and, despite how you feel, let them matter to me and therefore, in turn, to you? Pay some more attention to who I am and what I experience than how I make you feel. Get over yourself.

I could love you for that.


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