#1 – We learn by listening
It’s true. We learn much more by listening than talking.
Talking is the expression of our own preconceived opinions and ideas. But, listening involves hearing someone else’s thoughts and feelings.
Or, does it?
It’s important to differentiate between listening and hearing because they’re not the same. Hearing indicates the ability to perceive sounds, while listening is done consciously and involves the interpretation of those sounds.
The ability to hear is a passive bodily process that occurs without any conscious effort. Listening, on the other hand, is an active mental process that requires a learned skill.
I became a much better listener after taking an Interpersonal Communications course in college. We learned about active listening where the focus is on truly understanding the speaker’s message. This is accomplished through the careful observation of both verbal and non-verbal cues.
Too often we begin to formulate our reply before the other person is finished talking. Failing to receive all the information prevents us from understanding the other person’s message. The meaning gets lost in our premature effort to immediately respond.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” –Stephen R. Covey
Another problem with communication is that everyone brings their own worldview to the conversation. This is their perspective on politics, religion, and life in general. Our diverse cultures and unique experiences determine how we perceive people and situations and can vary greatly.
This is why active listening is crucial to clear communications. The Active Listening skill set from the Center For Creative Leadership consists of 6 parts requiring several techniques and behaviors:
- Pay attention
- Withhold judgment
Incorporating these into your communications with others can minimize misunderstandings and help you become a better listener.
#2 – We can’t fix people
And those of us who thought we could “help” other people make dramatic and life-altering changes know this first-hand.
This type of caretaking or codependent relationship can occur with a parent, child, significant other, or acquaintance.
It happens when we sacrifice our own needs for those of the other person. If that person has destructive behaviors we’ll enable those at the expense of our own well-being.
In spite of our best efforts, we can’t be responsible for another’s happiness, just as they aren’t responsible for ours. Love and support are crucial to a person struggling with problems, but they must be aware of their issues and do the hard work to find resolutions.
This may involve therapy, rehab, or education of some form, but there’s always learning involved. Understanding ourselves through honest self-reflection isn’t something another person can do for us, nor can we do for them.
#3 – Boundaries mean freedom
That may sound contradictory, but boundaries clearly separate one’s own life from another person and allow us to develop our independence and identity.
Without them, we fail to establish our sense of self, a necessary component for living a happy, healthy existence.
Have you ever felt so connected to another person that you don’t know where they begin and you end?
Some signs to watch for are:
- Your happiness and self-esteem are dependent on satisfying the other person.
- When there is a disagreement or other problem within the relationship, you’re overcome with fear and/or anxiety.
- When you’re away from the individual, you feel extremely lonely and preoccupied with thoughts of reconnection.
- You mirror the emotions of the other individual.
- You neglect connections with other people.
I’ve observed firsthand the damage that results from this type of relationship, both instances involving a narcissistic parent and child.
The dynamic begins early in life while the child is completely dependent on the parent. As the child grows, his independence should be encouraged and supported, which means allowing him to make decisions and mistakes.
However, narcissistic parents must be in control at all times and see the child as an extension of themselves. Their expectations are based on what they want, not what’s best for the growing autonomy of their child.
In the case of narcissistic partners or friends the same concept applies.
Just like a fence separates our property from the neighbor’s, healthy boundaries establish the personal space that’s vital to building positive relationships. We all have a right to our own personhood without trying to conform to someone else’s ideas of who we should be.
Surrounding ourselves with people who accept our weaknesses AND strengths make for a happier life, free of conflict and criticism.
#4 – True wealth = good health
Imagine finding out one day that you hit the lottery for millions of dollars.
We’ve all done it, as well as fantasized about how and what we’d spend the money on.
Most people would pay off debt and set up trust funds to ensure that they and their families will never want for anything again.
And then the fun would start; luxury cars, bigger houses, and lavish vacations to plan. Our heads would be swimming with the endless opportunities and how different the rest of our lives will be.
Now imagine that the following day you get a terminal diagnosis and only have six months to live.
Suddenly, the opportunities are no longer endless. Our newfound wealth can buy almost anything except the one thing we now want the most: our health. What value does a new house and car have if you only get to enjoy them for a short time? Or, that dream vacation if you’re too sick to take it?
Our preferences would change a lot in these situations. Good health offers us something money can’t buy which is time. Driving that coveted sports car is nice, but living another 40 years is far better.
So much emphasis today is placed on money and power. People are consumed with where they live, what they drive, the labels they wear, and so on. What gets lost is the knowledge of what’s really important: our health and relationships. Individuals with distorted value systems are generally unhappy because they’re never satisfied.
Realizing that good health is the highest form of wealth enriches our lives in all the ways that a winning lottery ticket can’t buy.
#5 – Honesty IS the best policy
In a world where alternative facts, white lies, and “spin” are becoming more acceptable, the truth is in danger of extinction. And this has a profound effect on societies and communication.
We’ve all lied; every one of us. The size and severity may vary, depending on the person and circumstances, but we’re all guilty.
Whether it’s done to protect someone’s feelings or to an insurance company to collect an illicit payout, it’s still a lie. We then justify the untruths in our own minds; hence, lying twice.
We think that the size of the lie is in direct proportion to the cost. But, the cost of even small lies is surprisingly large and explained well in this New York Times article.
Not only does dishonesty damage the relationships with others, it hurts ourselves. It prevents us from the self-awareness necessary for maintaining healthy connections and dealing with reality.
Lying has a way of twisting reality and can be overt or covert. If we practice dishonesty enough we get good at it. We’re then able to convince ourselves and others of whatever falsehood we’re trying to sell.
But, deliberately trying to deceive other people compromises our self-esteem. We know it’s wrong.
Honesty is the best policy and the type of insurance we all need.
#6 – Change is constant
“Impermanence and change are thus the undeniable truths of our existence. What is real is the existing moment, the present that is a product of the past, or a result of the previous causes and actions. Because of ignorance, an ordinary mind conceives them all to be part of one continuous reality. But in truth, they are not.” ~hinduwebsite.com
There are few things in this life that you can readily count on, but change is definitely one of them.
Interestingly, we don’t welcome change and often refuse to accept it. This resistance to change is called complex inertia and acts to maintain the body’s homeostasis.
For more detailed information check out this Psychology Today article on why we resist change.
#7 – We reap what we sow
Some people call it karma.
Others say “what goes around comes around.”
People familiar with the Bible will recognize these words of wisdom from Galatians chapter 6, verse 7:
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.”
Regardless of which version you prefer, the meaning remains the same. Whether it’s a garden, a relationship, or a business venture, what you invest largely determines the outcome.
Don’t expect blue ribbon tomatoes if you aren’t regularly watering and fertilizing the plants. Celebrating a 50th wedding anniversary isn’t likely without mutual respect from both partners. Success in business requires preparation and hard work.
Essentially, there are always consequences for our actions and the results depend on the choices we make.
Too often we focus on our expectations of people and things, instead of figuring out how to improve ourselves and our own efforts. We have to ask ourselves hard questions, answer truthfully, and be willing to make changes if necessary.
We must be consistent in our efforts to achieve goals. That can involve sacrifices in the short-term to realize success in the long-term.
When it comes to dealing with others this means offering honesty, mutual respect, and kindness. It doesn’t mean that we always agree, but how we treat others when we have conflicts will decide how others treat us under those same circumstances.
I’ve obtained many lessons over the course of my life, most of which would fall under one of the categories listed above. Despite numerous resources available and the best efforts of people who knew better than me, I had to learn them for myself.
It’s too bad we’re not born with the wisdom that we must spend a lifetime acquiring. It would certainly make the journey a whole lot easier.
However, it probably wouldn’t be nearly as interesting! Without the prudence learned through tough times, we couldn’t truly appreciate all the loving people and good times that come our way.
Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward. ~Søren Kierkegaard