“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you
don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not
doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or
less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have
problems with our friends or family, we blame the other
person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will
grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive
effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason
and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no
reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you
understand, and you show that you understand, you can
love, and the situation will change”
Thich Nhat Hahn
What we learn from nature (or what nature attempts to teach us) is that life is all about relationships. It tells us that none of us, as living organisms, can survive alone. We are inderdependent and the communication that happens between us is fundamental to keeping us healthy.
What I particularly like about the Thich Nhat Hahn quote above is how he relates communication to caring for each other.
We can think of different types of relationship as being like different types of climate. These relationship climates are like different environments for communication: intimate relationship or close friendships are like the lettuce’s relationship to it’s neighbour or to the soil, small group relationships are like the lettuce in relationship to its microclimate, a large group might be compared to a garden or smallholding, communities to farms and society at large to the landscape as a whole.
For these relationship environments to connect seamlessly and collaboratively, the type of communication needed is a synergistic one, what we call in relation to humans Conscious Communication.
What is Conscious Communication?
- A way of honouring our connection (interaction, synergy) to others. ‘Honouring’ is a word I’m using in this instance to denote respecting, allowing, holding lightly like holding a chick or a butterfly.
- A form of ‘food’ for the relationship, an essential part of the ‘growing conditions’ to sustain the life of the relationship. So we might think of elements of conscious communication as being like the sun, the soil and the rain in relation to the lettuce
- Something that serves us as individuals as well as in relationship to others. It’s mutually beneficial.
To help put conscious communication into perspective, here are some examples of life depleting communication and their corresponding life serving (conscious) form of communication:
Life/energy depleting – creating adverse growing conditions for the relationship
- Ignoring/Interrupting/Arguing – not listening
- Complaining/moaning. Focussing on what’s wrong.
- Playing the victim
Life Serving – nourishing food for the relationship
- Deep or active listening
- Seeking to understand first. Simply observing (rather than interpreting).
- Awareness of intentions and making them explicit. Seeking constructive solutions.
- Owning or acting from a place of self-empowerment.
- Asserting (asking without manipulating). Owning your vulnerability.
- Owning your responsibility and your vulnerability
- Offering constructive feedback with consent
Notice how the life serving forms of communication often involve inner observation and self-awareness before crafting a response, whereas the life depleting forms of communication often involve knee jerk reactions to what is going on. I would suggest that this is the difference between conscious and unconscious communication.
Conscious Communication is life-affirming. It’s all about slowing down, cultivating mindfulness or self awareness and using that to learn more about how we’re communicating with ourselves and then with others.
How do we learn to communicate more consciously?
Thich Nhat Hahn talks about the significance of understanding. In my experience, in the same way that we cannot really love another until we have begun to love ourselves, I don’t think we can really understand another until we have begun to understand ourselves. This might form a life-long quest, but maybe the process of learning to understand, and so of communicating consciously, is one that we can determine to practice on ourselves first in order to more easily relate to others.
For example, we can practise:
- listening deeply to ourselves by allowing some regular quiet contemplation time to tune in to our self-talk
- noticing what our feelings are telling us about our state of mind and our reactions and responses to events
- noticing what our feelings are telling us about our needs in different situations
- practicing honesty with ourselves by committing to our authenticity and integrity
- deciding to do some work on our self-esteem to boost assertiveness and protect us from sinking into victimhood.
- looking for opportunities for cooperation with others rather than comparing ourselves favourably or unfavourably with them.
What other forms of life-serving conscious communication can you think of?
What is it that helps you to relate in this way?