Chasing Meaning: Lessons from a Recovering Norwegian, Being true to yourself and those around you

This is one of my more transparent, personal, vulnerable and honest Ramblings. There is a core message around transparency in this Rambling that I hope will trigger reflection in the event that any of this applies to you, my reader.

As with most of my Ramblings, this Rambling came about as a result of the newfound enjoyment I have in reading and learning about a variety of subjects. I’ve also become more observant about what is going on around me. Recently, I ran across an article on the different types of conflict and how they can show up in our professional and personal relationships. Whatever differences may exist among the various stresses of life, there is one popular theory that the human body reacts similarly to all stresses by igniting either a “fight or flight response” in an effort to maintain an internal balance. (For those who have followed previous Ramblings, the two different EKGs that I used to have as discussed in the “This could save your life” Rambling is reflective of this theory.)

In the past, for me at least, the fight response would have revealed itself as a snarky (a little strong, but the adjective I will use today) defensiveness and the flight response would have involved ignoring the realities of a situation by retreating into a shell and hiding with shame and guilt. I used to do both depending upon the situation. I could totally internalize something, react in an aloof or guarded manner, or even try to avoid something altogether (a mechanism of the flight response). I have discovered that in fight mode, my past “snarky” or defensive comments caused those closest to me to feel that they needed to “walk on egg shells” if they encountered this response.

Both of these reactions shielded me from meaningful communication and created internal stress, something that is destructive to a meaningful and healthy relationship. I have now come to discover how freeing and wonderful it is in being honest with myself and those around me.

Chasing meaning

 As a recovering Norwegian, I have discovered that chasing meaning is better for your health and relationships than trying to avoid discomfort. Perhaps there are others out there who can relate to this. (You do not need to be Norwegian to experience this, however in my case, I will place responsibility on my heritage and to a lesser degree my family of origin.)
Recently, while at my ongoing Monday morning men’s group, I was reminded of something that I have learned in the past year: It’s about a trait (a behavior) that I never really understood or practiced to the level that was needed. It is rather shocking to me to accept that I thought I knew this, but never properly refined the skill, or practiced as I do now. This past behavior is something that created a quiet, subtle barrier, an armor, so to speak and tension in meaningful relationships. Here’s what I’ve come to understand:

It is not all about ME or what someone does! The key to meaningful relationships is to really get to know the other person, to really get to know yourself, and to have serious communication (dramatically different than conversations) as to the strengths, traits, habits, needs, support, dreams, beliefs, failures, struggles and values that are critical to yourself and those that are important to the other person. The ability to ask questions and then truly listen to others is a critical and powerful tool. It helps to remove the focus from oneself and instead place more focused and deliberate attention on the other person. For instance, now I say, “Tell me about you” and then shut up and listen intently without judgment!

 To really get to know another person you need to embrace totally non-defensive, collaborative truthcommunication that creates an environment of comfort, trust, and openness. This does not mean you always have to agree on everything. Think about how boring it would be if your closest relationships were based on saying “yes” to everything. You would be basing a relationship on something that wasn’t true and honest. I’ve come to understand we should do our absolute best to respect and honor the other person’s opinions, beliefs and input.

Understanding and respecting other perspectives, opinions, and insights expands our emotional bandwidth, strengthens relationships, and builds a broader learning curve. In the long run, it makes our relationships more interesting, healthy, and fun which is quite different than simply agreeing with another’s perspective. Living a full engaged life and developing meaningful relationships (personal and professional) means we must be true to ourselves and to those around us.

Say what you mean and mean what you say!

 This phrase hasn’t always resonated with me. Sure, it sounds nice but in the past I did not fully digest the words and the meaning. I lost the substance of what was being said. not-everyone-is-trueHowever, I have discovered how freeing it is to live this mantra.
It pains me to acknowledge my past behavior and failures as they have cost me so much in my personal life. However, I’m excited about what I’ve learned! Change is possible, yet difficult and takes incredible work and desire. Thank you to all who have helped me in developing this ongoing maturity. (You know who are!)
I remember a dinner I had with a couple whose husband I did not know well. It did not take long for him to talk about their son’s challenges and struggles. There was none of the superficial bragging about “the world’s greatest kid” that we’ve all experienced at some level. Rather, it was a fully candid and open discussion and that child and his dad became real to me. As a result, the evening was more relaxing as we all could talk honestly without judgement as opposed to find-something-beautifulmaintaining the superficial “egg shell” of polite chatter.
I have learned that slowing down and chasing the meaning and substance behind real opinions, conflict, stress, comments or feelings is far better for our physical, emotional, and relationship health than avoidance.

In conclusion, there are some key words that I want to briefly react to as I reflect on what I’ve discovered, It’s been an amazing learning curve!
I have discovered that an attitude and life of service, a life that is humble, a collaborative life of not being perfect, of accepting my weaknesses and flaws and living a life of being true to who I am, not who I am supposed to be all helps in building resilience to stress and maximizing life itself and the relationships around me.

How about you?

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2 thoughts on “Chasing Meaning: Lessons from a Recovering Norwegian, Being true to yourself and those around you

  1. Bob–I usually agree with your “Ramblings”–but not this time. (I feel “empowered” by your “I respect people who tell me the truth no matter how bad it is”–smile).

    You say “now I say, “Tell me about you” and then shut up and listen intently without judgment!” I don’t find that to be possible. We can and should all strive to be “good listeners”–but like it or not, we are constantly making judgements–for better or worse. An example would be your discussion with a man about his son–I’m sure that as the conversation continued, you made many and varied judgements about the man–which ended positively. That’s as it should be.

    You mention “fight or flight”–whether to engage or not in a conversation–that is a judgement in itself. There is no right or wrong about engaging or not–we all do this many times a day–it’s part of being human. What IS important is the WAY we engage–the language we use–and the time we allot to consider the point of view of another. Even as we get to know a person, that “fight or flight”–the decision to engage or not–still becomes important. If we value a person, we may still choose to engage or not. Take this response, for example: If I heard this from a casual acquaintance, I’d likely not choose to engage–but because we have come to know one another, I’m comfortable in pointing out the error of your ways! (laugh)

    Example: Upon close examination, I’ve found that nearly EVERY ONE OF MY BEST FRIENDS IS THE POLAR OPPOSITE TO ME POLITICALLY. That doesn’t stop us from taking good-natured jabs at each other–we listen–then engage. We enjoy the repartee. My point (and I do have one!) is that conversation (and resulting relationships) is a two-way street–both parties must listen–then not hold back on a response. To NOT respond devalues the relationship–“I disagree with you, but it’s not worth responding to you.” To engage them means “I’ve considered what you said, and here’s where we disagree.” No “walking on eggshells” with these people–we all know and understand where each party is coming from–much like your conversation with the man about his son.

    Quote: “I have learned that slowing down and chasing the meaning and substance behind real opinions, conflict, stress, comments or feelings is far better for our physical, emotional, and relationship health than avoidance.” That is true–better to engage (respectfully) than avoid–as messaged by your “Say what you mean and mean what you say” quote. There is something of a dichotomy expressed in the engage–not engage issue. It’s not “either-or”–it’s allowing yourself to consider the opinions of others–and then asking them for that very same freedom to TELL THEM WHY THEY ARE WRONG! (smile!)

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    • Jim my friend, What I have enjoyed from my publishing my Ramblings is the input, reaction and feedback I receive from readers. There is no question, you are my most predictable with amazing and valuable input and insight. I too find that the vast majority of the time I agree with your reactions and comments. This current Rambling is so filled with circumstances that alter the perspective. This Rambling creates an opportunity for interesting debate and reactions as to style, circumstances and how Fight/Flight occurs and maybe should occur.

      What I am convinced is that if a relationship is important that Fight done in an insensitive manner that reduces the respect of the person challenging an opinion or comment is destructive to a relationship and eventually reduces the conversation to casual meaningless dribble as people will eventual stop making suggestions or comments based on others react to them. However, gracious respected disagreement and discussion is healthy and fosters openness and closer relationships because everyone is allowed to be heard and have respected conversation that is considered and pondered.

      Flight on the other hand may be circumstantial as there are relationships and situations that bold transparency is not appropriate for many reason. With that said, if the relationship is close, trusting and the desire is to have it become even more so, being aloof or guarded is not healthy.

      So with all of that said, thank you for your insight, perspective and comments as they cause me to pause and reflect on your comments in a way that adds “color and meaning” to this entire subject, so THANK YOU JIM for your comments and willingness to take the time to respond, I truly find it personally helpful and possible other readers who see this exchange may too find value in your comments and perspective.

      Bob

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