One of the first questions I have, when teaching a new class or working with a father, is “Tell me how you express your feelings. Can you show you are angry, disappointed, frustrated in a healthy way or does it all come out as toxic anger?” Toxic anger is dangerous and greatly inhibits a child’s growth, impedes communication with others, and can lead to abuse and neglect. Understanding how a father deals with his feelings is key to understanding his relationship with his family, friends, and community.
One of the most common responses on how men deal with the feeling of anger is; “I want to hurt someone else. I want another to feel pain. I don’t want to be alone in my suffering.” This can surface in many ways, a bruising hand, a mouth filled with hurtful and caustic words. Other men leave and don’t come back, others come back but never talk about the emotion that erupted like a volcano. A lot of men simply get mad and stop talking, letting their silence oppress everyone who is near them.
Most men have never learned to deal, and healthfully express, their feelings. This is why for most men anger is their default emotion. The saddest part is they pass these traits along to children and the unhealthy cycle starts all over again.
An old Zen proverb says; “To hold on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.”
“You never cheated on your wife?!?!” “How long have you been married, and you never stepped out on her?” “What about her? Has she ever cheated on you?” “26 years and nope.” was my answer to a young man who wasn’t insulting me, or being flippant, but was genuinely astonished. I understood why he was asking. He is from a broken home, has siblings by other women and his father isn’t a good role model. On the other hand, I come from a home where my mom and dad have been married a long time, my grandparents, uncles, aunts, have given me multiple examples of stability, faithfulness and purposeful love.
As we continued our discussion and after his surprise wore off, I told him; “This is why it’s important that you be a good role model for your kids. You can teach them what a good relationship looks like, how men and women can communicate in a positive way. You can be what your father wasn’t for you and your children will be much better off.”
Fidelity, love, honor, respect; words that can mean the difference in our lives, the lives of those we love and folks with whom we share our life.
Go Home –
Today was a beautiful day for a walk/run outside. 80+ degrees, sun, blue skies, low humidity.
Anytime you walk or run, especially in the country, you keep an eye out for dogs. They love to come running up to you, barking, menacing, and you aren’t sure of their intentions. It is in these times I am thankful for a booming loud voice or a big mouth! I turn towards them, clap my hands together and say boisterously; “NO! GO HOME!” Most of the time this is enough to make a dog stop in their tracks and become confused. Almost all stop barking, charging and some even turn around.
In my father’s class in the county jail today we were talking about relationships, especially when it comes to communication. Most of the guys agreed with each other that it was almost always the woman’s fault. She would start; “Nagging! Not letting me have any peace, so I would just leave.” As we continued talking, however, I wanted them to see they were also at fault and leaving every time a conversation could turn into an argument didn’t solve anything. “Sooner or later you have to go home and have the hard conversations. The problems won’t disappear just because you don’t talk about them.”
Communication; the greatest asset or worst weakness we have when it comes to loving and living with each other.
Eye of the Beholder –
Yesterday was a day full of teaching/counseling how to best communicate with those we love and treasure most. It’s ironic but sometimes the very ones we have the greatest need to connect with are the ones we seemingly have the most trouble.
I spoke to a group of men about communicating with the mother of their children. Most of them have children with different moms and I had them imagine talking and listening with the one they have the most difficulty engaging. I asked them why and received all sort of answers, most of them blaming the mom. We then discussed the difference between action and acceptance. Ultimately we must accept it if another person won’t communicate with us but we should take every action step we can to attempt to reconnect.
The two starting points with any real conversation are respect and a willingness to be changed by the conversation. If we approach someone not respecting them, not wanting to listen, placing the blame for all the problems in the relationship true connection will not happen. We have to be willing to listen and acknowledge our responsibility in the challenges and difficulties of the relationship. We have to be open to change and make every effort to do our part in healing a broken bond between two people.
It all begins with looking the other person in the eye and seeing ourselves. Knowing and doing what we need to do instead of making demands of the other can be the first steps in a new and stronger bond between the ones we need in our lives.
Not Open –
This morning, I put on a shirt I had never worn before. Buttoning up the front I then went to button the cuffs. The first one was no problem but the second one was hard to get the button through. After several attempts, I finally looked to see what the problem was and to my surprise, the hole for the button on the cuff was sewn shut. It had never been cut open so the button couldn’t go through it. I didn’t have time to look for scissors so I simply rolled up my sleeves.
Yesterday, in a “how to communicate” lecture, one of the men in our Incarcerated Father group raised his hand and was busting at the seams to say something. I looked at him, smiled and said; “Yes sir?” “You don’t know the women we hang around! These communication skills won’t work with them, they’re crazy!” he blurted out. The class laughed and most agreed. When they settled down we spent a few moments going through a few alternatives forms of communicating that might be better-suited for the men and women who make up their family and friends.
“However, in the end,’ I said, ‘sometimes you need to know when to walk away. If they aren’t receptive to your desire not to argue, fuss and fight, then ending the conversation before the mayhem begins is your best option.'”
Sometimes, the way through the drama, aggression, judgement isn’t open at this point and time. If you can’t get through it, it’s best to leave it be and try again another day.
What is Received –
Some friends and I were talking the other day about listening. More to the point, we were talking about people hearing things which were never said.
In communication lectures I emphasize the importance of knowing your audience. To the best of your knowledge; have they had a good day, how are they feeling, are there any stressors and pressures weighing heavily upon them? All of these determine what they hear when you speak to them.
What about environment? What is the location of your conversation, do you have privacy, are there bystanders, can you talk without being interrupted by eavesdroppers? Again, these have a lot to do with how your words to another are perceived. And of course, what is your history with the person whom you’re speaking with?
Communication is 80% non-verbal. Only 20% of what we say to another person, or a group of people, is said with language.There are many other factors to be considered to ensure your words are received with the right intent. Unfortunately, even taking most or all of these ingredients in mind, it doesn’t guarantee the words you speak will be what the listener hears.
As one who speaks one on one and to groups of people regularly I have many stories of folks excitedly telling me; “What you said today really spoke to me!” When I inquire about the specifics they share about topics I didn’t talk about and hadn’t even considered! “Thank you!” they say. “You’re welcome!” I reply and walk away trying to figure out how they received what I clearly didn’t give.
It also happens in my writings. A few months ago I wrote about an ugly shirt and a comment someone made about the unsightly garment. As I try to do in my daily writings I gave a lesson learned from the encounter. I thought it was well written and to the point until someone responded to my post in an aggressive way. Though I tried to explain that what he received wasn’t what I wrote, it didn’t matter. Eventually I had to accept what he read and the meaning he took away from it even though it wasn’t my intent.
Wisdom tells us to measure our words. They are incredibly powerful. They build and destroy. Lift us up or tear others down. Too often we are careless with what comes out of our mouths and never consider the consequences until after the words are spoken. Breathe, before your speak and when what is received offends and harms, make sure you apologize with words more carefully chosen then the one which came before.
This morning I gave a presentation to a group composed of English-speaking and Spanish-speaking only individuals. This mix of people meant using a translator. This was a new experience for me. I quickly learned the differences in lecturing with and without one. The first was pacing. I couldn’t use my normal pace because of the pause required to let the translator interpret the words, phrases and ideas being presented to those who only spoke Spanish. The second was trusting the translator to interpret everything I said correctly. Even now I have no way of knowing what she did and didn’t say to those who were listening to her.
One of the positives, while also being strange, in using a translator, was the pause between speaking. While she spoke I could decide how to present my next idea. I used these gaps to make sure extra, unneeded words and phrases were removed while important crucial points were made as clear as possible.
Though difficult I do wonder if every day communicating would benefit from pausing between each sentence, thought and idea to ensure every word, even the gaps, are filled with meaning and purpose? Perhaps we’d have a more peaceable world if we were forced to think before we speak.