Wednesday, March 1, 2017

For Whose Benefit: Conversations

"I have no right to know. I don't have a method of stepping into the depths of your heart without it getting dirty. So I'll wait. When you want to talk, when you think it's okay to to me." - Rukia Kuchiki to Ichigo Kurosaki

 Thank you, Tite Kubo, for providing me with endless ins for blog posts, and sinking my OTP harder than the Titanic.

 Where This Started

The idea for this blog post started out as a random conversation and the fallout from it made me think about how to apply the strategy in other circumstances. And whether it was a good idea or not. It's also going to stay vague because that's actually how you help the most people with anecdotal lessons. Anyway.

I'd been chatting with a friend. They dropped an interesting fact about part of their life that I was somewhat aware of. I wanted to ask further questions on the topic. But didn't. I had no idea what to ask, or add to that conversation. So I let it slide.

On thinking about it later, I realised that there was something I was trying to do. That's where this comes in, because I think it might be a helpful strategy for conversations with other people.

Conversations can be for my benefit or for yours

Something worth noting before we get too far ahead of ourselves. This is less like an either/or situation and more like a sliding scale, or a Venn diagram. There's plenty of times when you'll have conversations with people that are for the benefit of both parties.

"Where do you want to go for dinner?"
"Well, we both like Mexican, so why not that burrito place down the road?"
"Sounds good."

There are times when the benefit isn't mutual, though.

"Can I talk to you about something?"
"Sure, what is it?"

Worm Can Opening 101, that one. Question is, are you about to open the can of worms because of an idle curiosity or because you want to hear out and care for the person who's just asked you to not freak out at this thing they're about to drop? (That isn't a neat progression of words. But life isn't neat, either.)

When you have conversations that are sensitive or heavy in nature with other people, there does come a point when you need to think about whether what you're saying is for their benefit, or if it's to desperately fill the void left by their words because oh man, this is heavy. I need to say something. Anything. Quick, make a joke. Lighten the mood.

Why should my conversation be for your benefit?

It's important to have conversations that aren't primarily for our benefit. It's important to be investing in the lives of the people around us. It's one of the many ways we can lovingly serve our peers, reflecting a Savior who sat down his closest friends and told them that victory and honour were to be found in service and sacrifice.

"But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”"

-Mark 9:34-35

Sometimes having a conversation for the benefit of someone else can look like just keeping an open ear. Sometimes it can look like acknowledging that whatever they are dealing with is hard. Sometimes it can look like sharing silence, rather than clouding a silent compassion with empty platitudes.

A word to the wise - if there's the chance to offer advice to the other, and you wish for it to be for their benefit, rather than a balm for guilt on your own part of action or inaction, check and see whether they want to hear advice first.

For many, and especially when an event is fairly fresh, offering advice without solicitation indicates a willingness to solve the problem, but it also indicates that the person offering the advice may not have thought about the problem. Or they just don't want it to be a problem for them, and if they offer a solution, then perhaps it'll go away.

So if someone unloads a heavy thing on you, and you want for your words to be for their benefit, check and see if they want your help or opinion first. If they've asked you to listen, then it is conceivable that they're okay with hearing out your thoughts. Just...check first. Just in case the problem in question touches part of their life that you've never had to deal with, and you might be inadequately prepared to offer an educated opinion.

How to have a conversation that is for someone else's benefit

There's probably like, three, four things to do, tops.

One, keep tabs on what your face is doing. If your person drops something massive on you, try really hard to not flinch. There are few things that will destroy my trust in someone faster than them immediately rejecting my words with their face. Develop a good poker face. Remember that this can help buy you a little time, but that all facades have their limit. Don't rely on the mere facade to get you through the year - you are going to have to provide a genuine response, even if that response is to tell them that this is bigger than you can deal with in the moment.

Two, ask questions that help clarify aspects of the issue. Ask open-ended questions to help build a good idea of the overall picture, and then closed-end questions when you want your friend to make the sorts of decisions that will influence this or that aspect of the issue. Don't ask for information unless you think it's important. Don't hold on to that information. You need it for 24 hours, tops. After that, chuck it in the 'burn' bucket inside your head.

Three, don't be afraid of silence. As we mentioned, sitting with people in silence is hard yakka. There's no grass for us to pull up any more because we're all adults. Or something.

Four, and perhaps most importantly, ask yourself if you have anything to add to the conversation. If you don't think there is, and you act on that, then you're having a conversation that puts the needs of the other over your own comfort and need to fill spaces of awkwardness. Hordes of awks. Fresh from Mordor.

If you do have something to add to the conversation, double check whether it is for your benefit or the other's.

A Better Connection

Having conversations that are for the benefit of someone else is hard. I spend way too much time thinking about the stuff I write on Facey and my million other social media sites and how they're supposed to change how other people think of me. I'm the entertainer. The interactions are about showing off how funny and clever I am.

But that's not what we need. Not in the age of the emotionally isolated.

God gave us two ears and one mouth. I'm trying to learn how to listen more. How to ask and not ask; how to react to hard things in a way that shows I value the people I speak with with. It's a blow to my pride, for sure. I've gotta forgo my carefully manicured image for something simpler - not claiming to know anything, just that you need Jesus' love, just like I do, and he's put me here and now because that's my job. Showing this person love like Jesus, serving this person like Jesus. Right here, right now.

Brooke out.

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