Recently it was put to me by the president that I was unable to build relationships. It might be true. Never the less, this sweeping accusation was pitched without notice over the phone together with a mixed bag of erroneous, easily falsifiable half truths and myth. In appearance the whole episode bore resemblance to one of those omnibus bills politicians favour when pushing nefarious policies through the house.
It reminded me of my childhood. Rather than finding time and space for setting good boundaries, my mother’s habit was to save up all the little irritants, stresses, perceived injustices and so forth, until on some non-descript day a seemingly innocuous word or deed catalyzed an invisible reaction within, leaving one’s own developing mind to fend for itself against the ensuing emotional diatribe. Fast forward into the modern world and I find myself noticing feelings eerily similar to those arising from such impulsive denunciations of yesteryear.
The proverb ‘It’s an ill wind that blows no good’ forewarns us that the deliverance of feedback, whether spontaneous or otherwise, requires something other than a deleterious communication style if we are committed to our relationships with others. The telephone, regardless of its ubiquity and seamless assimilation into our modern world is an instrument of poorest quality to those concerned with cultivating meaningful, carefully nuanced interpersonal relationships. Relational space between interlocutors, where shades of meaning tiptoe into awareness as conversation morphs with body language, is all but lost.
Telephones cannot recreate anything vaguely like the unique and authentic wordless performance that imbues human interaction with feeling, tones and colour. Exchanges over the telephone essentially deny our social brains the broader context in which to decipher complex, non verbal patterns of movement and gesture that ultimately enables empathetic, respectful communication to evolve. Essentially we are left with the philosophical ‘I-It’ relationship, granting speakers the folly of remote and depersonalized communication, carrying little immediate penalty for careless and unsubstantiated speech.
Assailing one’s personal and professional integrity is perhaps an example of what a tactless combination the errant ego and unruly limbic system can be. Ability in the interpersonal realm however, is not principally dependent upon one’s technological prowess or financial acumen but fashioned within the historical, social and cultural context into which one is thrust from their very earliest moments of existence. How one relates to humanity, and in return how humanity responds, become a reciprocal, edifying dialogue that helps one make contact with his or her deeper self.
Feeling valued in the world begins with simple acknowledgements and greetings of worth, providing others with evidence of their visibility. Without it we are left to seek outward approval, immobilized by narcissistic perseverations that drain away our vitality. We are left comparing ourselves to other people, creating delusions of superiority and unhealthy obsessions with social rank and status. Our ability to create personal meaning is usurped, fixing us in a life of continuous crisis.
Where then do we go? How do we break into such a cycle and engage life in meaningful discourse about how to live well with others amidst such pervasive uncertainty? We start perhaps by finding a place to experience ourselves in a larger context, one that nurtures our sense that there is still something in the future that belongs to us. We may ask ourselves a question like what is it beyond myself that I will stand for? Or, taking everything into account, how do I feel called? Answering these questions elevates the present moment to a higher significance as we allow our values to direct and define a meaningful future for ourselves. And it is never too late to start.
Life is transitory and thus it becomes more important to begin something of worth now that can extend into the future rather than focus on goals that lack a felt sense of value. It may not mean the end of insensitive conversations, but when they occur we may feel better anchored within a more thoughtful, extended field of meaning.
Mark A. Busby is an aspirant writer and poet living in Nanaimo, BC.